Jeff and I work together at our church where he uses, as one of my friends described it, his “Jedi-like powers” to craft an incredibly thoughtful time of worship. From theologically rich contemporary songs to liturgy to quotes from leaders in the global church to ancient hymns, Jeff’s passion for Jesus is a gift to our congregation and to all who have the privilege of knowing him.
His friendship is a gift to me. His culinary flair is a gift to our college and young adults group. His knowledge of how to fix sprinklers is a gift to my husband (his friendship is a gift to Daryl, too, but also: sprinklers).
The Word Became Flesh
by Jeff Given
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. –John 1:1
Easy to skip over this prologue, making our way to the Jesus stories in John’s gospel. When we scan passages that don’t strike as immediately practical or simple to grasp, it’s perfectly natural to move on. But wow, what we might miss.
It’s no small claim the author of John’s gospel presents here; these are expansive, mysterious, hope-filled ideas that open this particularly unique book. The same energy and love that breathed all things into existence is here, now, with us, and will surround us forever and ever.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Do you hear the Genesis there? The mystical poetry; serene, majestic, beyond time and space. The Word did not arrive at Christmas time; the Word was before time itself.
“The Word” here, Logos in Greek, is a concept that portrays an outpouring of God while not being wholly separate from God. An essence of God. This “Word” has nothing to do with reading or writing or even the Bible itself. The author is overlaying the Greek idea of Logos onto the already established idea of “Christos” that Paul had presented in Ephesus decades earlier: He writes to the Colossians that the Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:15-17)
The Word is an eternal idea, not bound by language, culture or religion. It coheres then that John’s gospel, more than Matthew, Mark or Luke, reveals the wildly inclusive nature of the Christ. John’s community of hearers and readers were more diverse in class and race and social standing, which presented a wonderful opportunity for the power-shifting gospel of grace to burst forth.
Throughout human history those in places of power have made claim to whatever and whomever would reinforce their dominance. The message of the gospel has not escaped this type of flagrant expropriation. When exclusive allocations of acceptance and love are made by the privileged and powerful, John’s prologue is a helpful corrective. “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” ALL things. “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” ALL people. John points us back to the beginning: female and male, created in the image of God. All of humanity suffused with the divine. In darkness and lightness; divine.
So what do we do with this? The Word is eternal and always. And though it didn’t first enter the world at Christmas, as we read on, something else did. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us…” The Word Became Flesh. Logos. The Word. Christos. The Christ. The very essence of love and eternity and power took on human form as a tangible example of grace, gift, life, joy. For all of creation.
We worship what has always been, what will always be, but specifically at this time we remember and celebrate the physical here and now. The Christ, an all encompassing reality that existed before time; Jesus, a singular embodiment of that reality. A baby, born outdoors in ancient Palestine to Jewish commoners. Flesh, bones, blood, body… human, yet somehow divine. Just like each and every one of us. How might we joyfully receive and share the Word in us?
Jesus reveals the Christ hidden in and among the people. He openly and sharply repudiates the idea that the lives of the privileged, wealthy and powerful are of more value than others. By his love, mercy, justice and power, he asserts that the lives of children matter; the lives of women matter; the lives of Samaritans matter; the lives of slaves matter.
As we sing each Christmas season, “He appeared and the soul felt its worth.” May we sense the Word that is pulsing just beneath the surface of our everyday experience. May we hear the divine whisper in voices we at first did not recognize as holy and beloved. May we gratefully receive the Word in us, as we humbly seek it out in all creation. May we become more and more aware of the Christ in others, as we are drawn to the center of all things.
The Word was with God and the Word was God.
Forever and ever, amen.
Jeff Given leads worship, cooks gourmet stuff, dabbles in home design and repair, and can name 753 different kinds of trees. He and his wife Stephanie live in Costa Mesa with their baby son, Easten, bringer of joy and thief of sleep.