Introducing Jesus – John 1:1-18
We had dinner with the Trimbles this week and got to talking about getting to know people in different countries and the different sorts of questions that people ask. In Hong Kong, they were saying, they had to get used to people asking, “How old are you?” or “How much do you earn?” The question that always surprised me in Japan was, “What is your blood type?” Perhaps I should, but I don’t know my blood type! And lots of questions about family. On the other hand, the usual question Australians ask, “What do you do?” is not that polite in other parts of the world. In France, for example, it is more common to ask where you go on holidays than what you do for a living or what part of France you are from? But asking where people come from can also cause offence – in countries where immigration and citizenship are hot button issues. Its apparently safest to stick to sport, though our taxi driver in Barcelona, originally from Pakistan, was very disappointed to discover the Australians who had got into his taxi knew almost nothing about cricket!
In this extraordinary opening to John’s gospel, part poetry, part theology, we are introduced to Jesus Christ without, as John Higgins said in his Advent reflection, “an angel, shepherd or magus in sight”. Instead, we are given three pieces of introductory information; where Jesus comes from, “In the beginning was the Word…”, who Jesus is related to, “the Word was with God…”, and finally, what Jesus’ identity is, “the Word was God.” John uses these categories of origin, relationship, and identity, the categories we use to make sense of our humanity, to help us make sense of the incarnation – of who Jesus Christ is.
And at the end of our reading this morning, in verse 18, those three pieces of information are repeated – in different words. Where is Jesus from? He is the only Son, monogenes, only begotten Son of God. Who is he related to? He is close to the Father’s heart. What is his identity? He is the one who makes God known.
The purpose of introductions – in every country or culture – is to create bonds, to define relationships, and so these three pieces of information not only introduce Jesus to us but reveal who we are in the light of relationship with him as well.
So, firstly, what does, “In the beginning was the Word…” tell us about Jesus and about ourselves?
It tells us about Christ’s pre-existence, that Christ was always with God, but the language also instantly evokes the beginning of Genesis, the description of God’s life-giving and chaos-defeating work in creation. Jesus Christ, it tells us, was part of that work then and continues to do that work now, overcoming chaos and evil and bringing life and wholeness into our lives and into our world. Verse 3 and 4: “What has come into being in him was life, and life was the light of all people.”
On New Year’s Eve the ABC news did an overview of 2021 and the item was most moved me was Sir David Attenborough addressing world leaders at COP26, saying, “In my lifetime I’ve witnessed a terrible decline. In yours you could and should witness a wonderful recovery.”
This is who the writer of John is introducing to us. The one with the life-giving and life-saving power that restores lives, yes, but whose final goal is the restoration of all creation! That is an incredible way to think about salvation! Christ is the only begotten Son, monogenes, a difficult word for translators, but one that indicates his unique role, the role he uniquely fulfills, in bring about God’s saving and restoring work in us and in everything! Verse 14; “we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
Secondly, the writer of John introduces Jesus by way of his relationship with God; “the Word was with God.” Or in verse 18, “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart.” ‘Heart’ here can also mean ‘side’ or even ‘bosom’. God the only Son is nestled in God’s bosom. It is a picture of intimacy and tenderness, and nurture.
I am reminded of a story of what not to say when meeting Americans! In Indonesia many many years ago, we were climbing into the back of a crowded taxi (an oplet if you know your Indonesian taxis) and my father suggested to a young American man that he nurse his wife. He was very taken aback!
Yet this is the language the writer of John uses to describe the closeness, the connection, between Christ and God. And it is language that appears again in John, in John 13:23, seemingly as a throw away reference, “One of his disciples – the one whom Jesus loved – was reclining next to him.” It is the same phrase: ‘close to his heart…his side… his bosom.’ “Who was this disciple?” many people ask, but the more important question is why this phrase appears again here in the text. As commentator Karoline Lewis writes, “The beloved disciple’s introduction and placement in the story indicate that his function and meaning are more important than his identity.” The repetition of this phrase, “affirms the premise of the Gospel that every claim about the relationship between God and Jesus is at the same time a claim about the relationship between the believer and God/Jesus. Who is the beloved disciple? He is you. He is me.” As we are told in verse 12, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” In welcoming Christ into our lives, we have become God’s beloved children, held close to God’s heart, nurtured by God’s love.
Finally, the writer of John tells us, “The Word was God”. Jesus Christ was God and “became flesh and lived among us”, and therefore is able, verse 18, to make the invisible God visible, to make God known. Literally, the verb here indicates that Christ’s role is to “exago”, to bring out or to lead out God to human beings so that a relationship with God is possible.
And we too, as children of God, now have this role of bringing out or to leading out God through our lives in ways that makes God visible to others. We introduce God to others.
This sounds daunting. There are those we might think do this better than the rest of us. In the last week we have lost, and mourned Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and I have struck by the stories of how quickly, after meeting him, people felt like his friend. He was an extraordinary man, who played an extraordinary role in the history of South Africa, and yet in an interview with Giles Brandeth after Tutu had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, he said to him, “If this is going to be my last interview, [let’ s not] talk about politics. Let us talk about prayer and adoration, about faith, hope and forgiveness.”
Tutu simply wanted to ‘bring out’ or ‘lead out’ God to others – and this is simply what we are called to do too. As people in whom Christ’s life-giving, life-saving work is at work, as people who are close to the Father’s heart, we are, just as we are, uniquely and perfectly equipped to do these introductions to God for others. We need to rest, like that child in the bosom, in the confidence that from his fullness, verse 16, “we have all received grace upon grace.”
Aron went to a seminar some time last year that recommended starting each day, the moment that you swing your feet out of bed and put them on the ground, with the words, “This is going to be a great day!” We have both continued the practice – to some extent – and it has been helpful.
But I wonder if, as people of faith, as people given the power to become children of God, whether it might not be more helpful for us to begin each day – to begin this year – by reminding ourselves of who Jesus is – and of who we are. Of beginning each day by saying – the moment you open your eyes, or your feet touch the ground, or you see yourself in the mirror, “I am God’s creation. I am God’s child. God will be seen in me today.”