Subversive, radical and earth-shattering Christmas
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. John 1:1
Christmas is nice, isn’t it? Cute little baby, furry donkey, sparkly lights and a carol or two. There’s nothing quite so traditional in our culture, both inside and outside the church. We tell and celebrate the Christmas story in familiar ways and we try not to rock the boat, after all we’ve always done it this way…
When John wrote his gospel and introduced the incarnation, he turned the whole Hebrew religion on its head in one sentence. John’s song to celebrate the incarnation was subversive, radical and earth-shattering.
Take the first three words; ‘In the beginning’. In our english Bibles we have names for the books like ‘Genesis’ and ‘Numbers’ (you wonder who ever came up with such an inspiring title!). But in the Hebrew bible, the books were known by their first lines. So Genesis was known as ‘In the beginning’. Sound familiar? John was, in three small words, putting his story on a par with that of Genesis. He was saying “I’ve written Genesis 2. Hold on to your seats…” We know from reading the gospels that the religious establishment didn’t like boat-rocking in those days. It was important for them not to – they were under Roman occupation and striving to hold on to their Jewishness; it’s understandable, but it wasn’t working. Imagine how they’d greet the publication of Genesis 2!
But he doesn’t stop there. He tells us that the Word was God. The readers would have understood ‘the Word’ better than us. The ‘Logos’ (in Greek), was a familiar idea in both Greek and Jewish thought. A spoken word with a terrific potency, almost a life of its own. When we read ‘the word of God’ in the Old Testament we tend to think of the written word, but the 1st century Jew would think of the spoken Word of God, full of the breath of his lungs and the thought of his mind. Almost alive. John goes one step further and says this word ‘was God’. Perhaps not so radical until the next sentence – ‘the Word was with God’.
Now he’s really done it. Not only has he written something on a par with Genesis, he’s now said there are two Gods! Or two parts to God. Or one God. Or something – it’s confusing but let’s lynch him, because it’s not ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord your God is one.’ And why stop now, he’s on a roll. How about retelling the creation song in his own words, focusing in on this Word, this light, this creation agent who gives and light and life, who offers adoption into God’s family who is the Word become flesh, who shares the glory of God in heaven?
John sings a Christmas song of cosmic proportions, so grand and so deep it’s out of reach in its profundity, but so real and so close that it takes us by the hand and walks with us. Let’s sing that song at Christmas time. Let’s worship that God. Let’s do justice to John’s radical message.
Joel lives in North London, working as the Minister for Prayer & Worship at St James Church in Muswell Hill, London. Previous to that, he spent a decade at St Michael le Belfrey Church in York, practising his song-writing on an unsuspecting and generous congregation.