When I was young, my father pointed out how trees along the highway or in wide open spaces often leaned to the east, shaped by the prevailing west winds that we experience in the Midwest.
This is for me one of those life-truths that is in my bones. Without even thinking about it as I move through a space, I’ll take note of the trees and somewhere in my mind I think, “ah, so that must be west…” It is a nearly subconscious thought.
And this time of year, my body mysteriously adjusts to changing light. No longer is the sky brightening by 5:45 or even 6:30 a.m. And as my eyes begin to open to darkness…I still know roughly what time it is even as the light has changed. Somehow my body knows that it is 6:20 a.m. whether it is sunny or still dark at that time.
As we step deeper into these explorations of scripture, seeking to make the road on which we walk, one thing that I am finding is the way certain truths are framed from the beginning for us, and they become foundational. They are the sturdy stones upon which we continue to build our life of faith. They are trail blazes that continue to show up for us and remind us of what is real and true. They become part of our flesh, part of our biology somehow.
Or maybe they have always been part of us and the work of this life journey is uncovering them, returning to them, remembering them, invoking them. Maybe they are the footsteps of generations that have worn a path we continue to travel.
Our primary text for today from John’s gospel is - for me – traditionally a Christmas eve reading….I can’t begin reciting it without calling to mind a darkened sanctuary that glows brighter and brighter with candle light as we pass the light from one to another.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
John’s gospel is not like the others – Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It has a complexity and elegance to it. It has allusions to the past and markers for the future. “ The Word” we are told was at the beginning is not “only” the spoken words of God at creation – “let there be… “- but the Word in John’s text is also the Greek concept of logos – a divine principle that gives order to things, a “reason” that undergirds all that is.
So John’s introduction unveils a new way of understanding the Jesus story - in the beginning, there was a divine principle. John’s gospel places Jesus as the divine principle right there at the beginning of creation with God.
Did I mention the “elegance” of John’s writing? It makes sense…in the first creation story in Genesis, when God speaks humankind into being, God uses plural pronouns – Let US make humankind in OUR image, according to OUR likeness…
Already, in the Genesis text we are introduced to a glimpse of the Spirit that moves over the waters to animate chaos into created order. And now, in John’s Gospel, the writer situates Jesus there as well.
That might leave you with some image of the adult Jesus brooding with some human shaped God….
I suggest we have to hold on to this more loosely…something like this:
My father had a rather endearing colloquialism when I was growing up. He would say about the times before I was born – oh, you were but a twinkle in your daddy’s eye – a gentle way of saying that his romantic intent would eventually result in conception and manifestation…but so much still remained before that would come to fruition.
And so as I read this passage in John and imagine the Logos of God present at creation who is now being introduced and baptized by John in the Jordan, I remember that phrase – the details at this point are probably NOT so much the point – but somehow the Trinity – Father, Son, Spirit – are present at creation. The capacity of Jesus, the potential of Jesus is fully present at creation.
Let’s lay this beside some other truths we have already established as we have looked at creation these past weeks.
God created an amazing diversity, and he declared it all GOOD.
God placed before humans the choice of life or the choice of trying to be God by attempting to know both good and evil.
The fullness of the Triune God was present at the beginning. Most specifically, the potential of Jesus was present in the beginning.
We will continue to spend the next many Sundays working our way through the stories of Hebrew scripture – the “old testament.” Because these are vital stories. But it is important to connect those stories with the stories of Jesus – because those stories made Jesus who he was as a rabbi and as a faith leader. These old stories help us to know Jesus better. But it is possible that Jesus helps us understand these old stories better too. Certainly he taught from these stories. But he moved through the world from these stories as well.
Perhaps as we prepare to continue to move through those older stories it helps us to remember that even when we are not talking about Jesus, Jesus is on the path with us somehow.
Essentially, in John’s Gospel, we are being offered a story and a pattern for how to understand Jesus and Jesus’ unique relationship with God. And as a result of that unique relationship with God, there is a unique relationship with all of humanity. And set into a Greco-Roman culture of mythology and many gods, this Jesus presents a new divine principle.
There were a few common “ways” or paths that were widely understood in the philosophy of the times into which Jesus entered.
1) There was the way of war. Everything was a survival of the fittest competition. In order to survive, you had to “win,” which meant power over those who were weaker, different. Blessing was defined by victory and victory meant someone else had to lose.
2) There was a way of domination. Survival was about either domination or compliance. And if you were not going to dominate, the only other way to survive was to follow the rules that are set by someone above you. No matter how unjust, no matter how inhumane. Dominate or Submit.
3) There was a way of mechanics. Everything and everyone is a cog in a machine whose engineering is already set. Once the machine is set in motion – there is nothing to do but whatever your part is…there is no affecting the outcome or interrupting the status quo. If your part is hard and mundane and soul-crushing, so be it. If your part is charismatic and powerful, so be it.
4) OR…(here’s where John’s gospel comes in) Life is this complicated story. God has moved through the chaos and ordered it with goodness. And Jesus is part of God’s creation – part of the way the world works. Jesus was at the beginning and Jesus modeled life like none other. He demonstrated power through love. He responded to violence with peace. He set an example by choosing to be in relationships that upset all three of the prior “ways” of being – war, domination, mechanics. As Christ – the power of love and peace in the world beyond earthly life – he is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
We are on this life journey, making this path. And through creation – through the amazing power of everything emerging from the chaos including you and I – God offers a divine principle – a way of understanding and moving through the world.
“Jesus translates the logic or meaning or pattern or heart of God into terms we humans can understand: skin and bone, muscles and breath, nerve and action.”
And so we know the way somehow both by learning Jesus’ example but also because we also walk in skin and bone, muscles and breath, nerve and action. There is cellular knowing.
We were created from the same dust and today we walk in the footprints of this man, this power of love and peace, as we seek to find a way of life …and walking, we leave footprints for others on the journey, also created of this shared dust.
And our bodies are able to just begin to know. To know what was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. To know a way of peace and love because we turn our hearts that direction first by habit and work and then by knowing. It’s work. It’s work to know the heart of God in a way that we can understand. But it is work that we can do so that we understand and live in light of it.
May it be so.
We are currently on week 3 of a 52 week journey through the book, We Make the Road by Walking: a year-long quest for spiritual formation, reorientation, and activation by Brian McLaren. If you are interested in following along, we worship at 10 a.m. on Sundays at faithworkshere.com. If you are interested in joining a small group discussion about the book drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org