The clue is in the first half a dozen words: ‘In the beginning was the Word’.
John is consciously reminding us of the opening of the book of Genesis, the first words of Hebrew scripture: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. We are invited to think of the coming of Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of the strategy of the creator, the climax of history, the end of the former times.
And as his Gospel progresses John has Jesus meeting a succession of symbolic figures to reveal to them the nature and purpose of God. Whether it’s Nicodemus or the Samaritan woman, or Simon Peter or the woman caught in adultery, or Pontius Pilate or even Judas Iscariot – all these encounters reveal how God, the Christlike God, deals with us personally, John’s readers and would-be Christian disciples. Until at the end the resurrection demonstrates love’s power, the new beginning is completed. The light has come and the darkness has not overcome it.
The book of Genesis invites us to think of the universe as somehow God’s work, not least in making human beings, as Psalm 8 puts it, ‘a little lower than God’ with power over every other living thing on earth. In similar vein the fourth gospel invites us to consider the person of Jesus as embodying the humanity we are all meant to have and the divine love which we are all meant to show.
The parallel with Genesis continues in early Christian thought as they strove to understand just how mind-blowingly unique this Christ Jesus was. Paul actually calls Christ the ‘second Adam’. His ‘yes’ to God’s will is such a contrast to Adam’s ‘no’. It gives us the possibility of forgiveness when like Adam we find doing what God commands is just a bit too much and we fail. As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive, says Paul.
As John puts it: ‘what has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people’.
Christianity is essentially hopeful. This does not mean, as some might think, optimistic or naïve, in a fantasy world where ‘things can only get better’; it certainly does not mean pretending that all our serious current troubles will somehow just melt away. But it means trusting deep down that ultimately we are loved, for ever, whatever. That’s why Paul’s great three-some of faith, hope and love are aspects of the same reality, the gift of God, which is life, eternal life, now glimpsed and then fully known.
I’m not a chess-player but I do like the metaphor describing how Jesus Christ is and will be Lord of all. Sometimes there’s a crucial move in the middle of a chess game which means that only one player can win, whatever the other player does, however long it takes. In Jesus God has made that move; the game will only end one way now.
So enjoy Christmas in the spirit of Easter, the celebration of hope in such a bleak mid-winter.
Thanks be to God.
Revd. Peter Brain