The Word enables rich, multi-faceted lives, lived in dialogue with God
Jonathan Rowe, 24 December 2022
Isaiah 52: 7–10; John 1: 1–14
‘In the beginning …’. The start of the gospel of John takes us back to the beginning of the Bible – the start of Genesis – where we find these same words.
And there, too, we find references to creation, to darkness and light, to a word. ‘In the beginning when God created …’, starts Genesis, proceeding to describe the creation of heaven and earth as the result of God speaking. From the midst of a formless void and deep darkness, God spoke. And there was light.
The gospel of John riffs off Genesis as well as other contemporary philosophical ideas. ‘In the beginning was the Word’. Words seem to be fundamental to being human. Even when we don’t say words, we understand the world through them, interpreting what we see or hear or feel. And we use words to influence others, to suggest or instruct or console.
Tonight we celebrate the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.
Words can open up communication. But they can also curtail dialogue. We don’t have to look far in our world to find examples of words that simply seek to impose a point of view – words spoken in the context of recent industrial disputes and military conflicts come readily to mind.
Yet words that simply broadcast a point of view rather than seeking to engage others are much more pervasive. Most novels or television programmes, for example, implicitly commend the author’s or director’s point of view. If you will excuse the technical terms at this hour of the night, they are ‘monological’ not ‘dialogical’.
The Word which creates, though, invites dialogue. This is the world described in Genesis. God creates a world with an almost limitless number of possible ways of living well. The gospel of John puts it like this: ‘What has come into being in him was life’. The Word created a world which enables rich, multi-faceted, interesting lives, ones lived in dialogue with God.
And then John says something remarkable: this ‘life was the light of all people’. The fact that we live with and communicate with others, the fact that we have within us a spark which ignites our search for the divine – all this life … is light.
We have within us a spark which ignites our search for the divine.
Light, as we know, illuminates, enables us to walk in the dark. John is saying that living in dialogue with God and each other enables us to live well. The corollary is that denying dialogue, seeking instead to impose a single point of view, is like living in darkness. If we’ve been on the receiving end of being shut up, we know that it’s disempowering and degrading – a dark place indeed.
That’s why God comes to us as a baby: weak, dependent, defenceless – inviting dialogue.
Just as God has created a world that enables people to live with him or live without him, so the Word of God, the father’s only son, can be accepted or rejected. ‘He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him’, says John.
But he also indicated that some did receive him. Notice this: not merely assenting to something he said, but receive him. And the gift that he gave them in return was ‘power to become children of God’. In other words, to enter into a relationship, an ongoing dialogue with the creator of all.
John indicated that some did receive Jesus. Notice this: not merely assenting to something he said, but receive him.
We, too, are offered the same choice. Our second carol, ‘O little town of Bethlehem’, is one of my favourites. The third verse captures well how God in Christ seeks not to impose but to invite:
How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given!
We sang the truth that the Word does not shout, but simply promises:
where meek souls will receive him, still
the dear Christ enters in.
Tonight, we celebrate the Word made flesh. It’s a wonderful opportunity to start – or renew – an eternal dialogue with God.