Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Word Became Flesh

John's writings have common threads whether we speak about his epistles or his gospel. Certainly, one of those is love - the love of God for the world, and the expected reciprocal love of God by people. Perhaps the most famous of his statements is that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son for the world to save it. But there is another thread common among his writings but it is not overly explicit. That is a corrective narrative against what appears to be the beginnings of what would become what we call Gnosticism. Specifically, a dualistic view of Creation.

This view, arising from Greek influences argued that the physical world was corrupt and imperfect; destined for destruction. On the other hand, this view held that the spiritual life, or that of the mind was that which was to be perfected and leave the coarse physical reality behind. This view infiltrated the church such that some would teach that what we did in or with our bodies was of no consequence. Our bodies would die and decay and were inherently not good, but corrupt. Because of this, disciples could participate in any number of illicit and sinful behaviors because it wouldn't matter. What would matter is their understanding and acceptance of Jesus. These beliefs about Jesus would perfect their minds, the important aspect of humans and this is what would cause them to be accepted by God. The affect then was that as long as you believed the right precepts, you could conduct your physical life in any way you'd like. John is not the only writer with this concern; it is actually quite common throughout the New Testament.

A correlate of this dualistic view of physical and spiritual being was voiced as an objection to Jesus having been really and actually Deity incarnate. Since Jesus was flesh and God is spirit; because flesh was inherently bad and spirit good, Jesus could not have been Deity incarnate. He only appeared to have a body, or his body was real but his mind had been taken over by the spirit of God. However we might slice it, the argument would have gone, Jesus of Nazareth with his physical body was not God.

This view of dualism is in the background of John's writings, and he wastes no time denouncing it in his Gospel. We are told up front that from the very beginning, the Word was with God and the Word was God. John will not hold any punches with this topic. He declares that this Word was Deity.

Later in this reading John will tell us that this Word became flesh and lived among us; that he had seen Him and could witness to Him. This enfleshed Word John will identify as Jesus in a few paragraphs. His point - that Jesus of Nazareth was this Divine Word who took on flesh and lived on the earth. For John, there is no question. He will tell us in chapter 20 that he writes his gospel so that we will believe that Jesus is this Divine Word that existed from the beginning of time. For John, dualism doesn't exist; physical flesh and spiritual Divinity in fact coexisted as one person.

We find also in this passage that this Word was both life and light. Life we are told because through Him all things have been made.He is life because He is Life itself. He gives and He sustains our lives. It is this Life that became flesh and walked among us. And yet not even His own people recognized or received Him. The very Life of the entire Creation was also the Light for all people. Light as a guide; Light as something that reveals reality; Light as something that shows forth. The Word was this Light and those who had their eyes open and their hearts not seared saw this Light and came to it. The Light illumines the truth that the life He lived among us illustrated and modeled the Life that He is and that He offered.

Those who received Him, who saw the Light and who saw the Life for what it is, these He welcomed into the kingdom of God as children of the Father. John says this becoming children was not dependent on physical descent, but on belief that this enfleshed Word was indeed Life and Light This sort of belief is not simple acknowledgement; not simply a mental conclusion. No, this belief is often better described as trust. Trust that throws all in with God and joins Him in Life and work. This joining is such that God's desires and values become our desires and values. We come to understand and to own these for ourselves. Often we hear an allusion to disciples "reflecting" God to those around them. It seems to me that this does not quite meet the parallel. Rather it is that disciples are to be more like glow in the dark material. We live in the Light so that we absorb its energy and it becomes our own. When we turn off the light, we glow from within ourselves, emitting that energy and Light that we have absorbed as our own. We never become the Light, but the real Light we emit is our own.

These ideas are important for John as he both argues that Jesus is the Word and that we come to Him through trust that His way of Life is really for us. The Life He led allowed Him to say that if His disciples had seen Him, they had seen the Father. There was no distinction necessary between Jesus in the flesh, and the Divine Word. Similarly, John argues the same for disciples. We are both flesh and Spirit and this informs our ways of life. It rules out immoral living while holding to Spiritual truths. The two go hand in hand for John. 

This Life; this Creator God came to live among us. 

Really.

If we perceive the Light and receive it and join it in trust, we are children of God; both flesh and Spirit.

Really.

Live into the Life and Light of God, and glow with a minor light which becomes your own.

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