Tuesday, 25 December 2018

The word made flesh

The first chapter of John's Gospel is not something we associate with the joy that permeates Christmas and yet the 'birth narrative' of John is one of the set readings for Christmas day. At midnight we hear the Lukan story, which can also be repeated with slight variation in the morning. (Not to burst a balloon or anything but our interpretations of Luke's story are overlaid with misinformation and cultural bias which often lead us astray). John is forthright in his narrative, if somewhat dense, it is almost as if it comes directly from a Jewish midrashic sensibility that shows the fecundity and possibility that is redolent in the birth of Christ.

It is a narrative of possibility that leads us into a deeper appreciation of the spiritual reality of the incarnation that opens up our imaginative juices to the possibilities that are inherent in God's presence. We can see within its progression an interpretation of the originatory story in Genesis made concrete and human bound allowing us to access the wells of possibility that are present in genesis and the creative moment. The be-coming of God into human form brings forth a hopeful expectancy that is awaited for in creation. The imagery of light and darkness gives us structure to the possibilities of the future. There can be no distinguishing between two things unless there is contrast introduced by the strobe of light reflected outward and into our lives. We cannot imagine, in the wells of darkness, something that is different and hope filled unless there is a contrasting element. For us that element is the incarnation of God in the midst of frailty and suffering.

Light affords us contrast and words afford us community

In John there is an understanding of a reading that is associated with the history of the Jewish people. We can perhaps imagine the author reminding his community, with Christ's non-recognition, the understanding that only the forefathers walked with God whilst now, as a result of fear of God's presence, we need an interface (the Law / Torah) for communication between God and God's people. In seeing the Christ we see God's presence directly once more but are unable to recognise this as a result of our dependence on an interpretative structure such as Scripture. The incarnation thus becomes for us a light to God's presence in humanity brought into being in the meanest of places as we read in the other Gospels. It means that we can once more have direct access as humanity to the hope and love that is God. We no longer require the intermediary but like Abraham we are able to walk with God on a human basis.

This is furthered by the simple understanding that the first thing was the word. This suggests that the first thing in our relationship, as with any relationship, is the ability to communicate. The first word spoken is "Let there be light" (Gen 1.3) the beginning of discernment that allows us to formulate relationship. Words are the things that are required for us to form relationship and harmony whether they are lingual or physical. Words enable us to express love and beauty, faith and praise, happiness and joy, gratefulness and forgiveness. It is in our realisation of God's undying presence incarnate amongst us that enables and participates in the joy of creation, the creation inherent in conversation, partnership and community.

In reflecting on the multitudinal possibilities that comes with the expression of God's word amongst God's creation we can begin to see the possibilities that are created in our lives as we celebrate this day. A celebration that should fill our hearts with the hope expressed in the Christ child and our own lives as we own God's presence as part of our humanity this day.

1 comment:

Chris Elders said...

I find this a very profound and meaningful way to start Christmas morning. I am often left wondering "what is the fuss all about?" when we focus purely on the nativity scene. but John's account is still part of the "traditional" Christmas tradition, coming as it does at the end of a festival of nine lessons and carols. The Word and the Light together are empowering, and place the incarnation back at the centre of our own lives. The fact that there cannot be light without darkness is also thought provoking - that was brought home to me once by a chaplain pointing out that the beauty of his picture of Alpine mountains depended upon the contrasts between light and shade - if it was all bathed in the same intensity of light, the image would be bland. Darkness is an integral part of our world - of creation? - and without it we would not be able to appreciate the beauty and exhilaration of the light.