John 1:1-5, 14 (New Revised Standard Version)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Every once in a while, when I find myself at Home Depot or Lowe’s picking something up, I’ll take an extra moment to wander over to the lumber section. Aisles and aisles of wood cut in planks and boards and rods. Oak and pine and spruce, ash, cherry, mahogany, walnut, teak, cedar.
If I walk to the middle of those aisles, close my eyes, and inhale deeply, I’m transported through time and space to my grandfather’s workshop on the shores of the Saint Lawrence River.
Growing up, it was one of my favorite places in the summer, my Grampa Doc’s workshop. It smelled of freshly cut wood and there was always sawdust in the corners.
Grampa had built his own house, but that was well before my time. As I grew, I watched him build furniture, toys for the grandkids, birdhouses and cabinets. It seemed there was nothing that his strong, talented hands could not build. I loved watching him.
Eventually Grampa showed me — his squiggle-haired, persistent granddaughter — how to safely use all the tools, eventually even trusting me (while very, very, very closely supervised) to use his big Shopsmith machines.
This is the memory that I cherish, and which I wish I had a picture to show you: my grandfather’s large, still strong, age-spotted hands gently laid over mine, as together we guided the wood, and together created something new. His hands firmly, lovingly guiding mine.
The best way to learn is to first observe, then follow someone.
We learn to drive that way. You’ll see even little children pretending to drive using their little plastic toy wheels in the car. They watch and they imitate their parent’s movements. (And they’ll also imitate the language we use on I-495, so watch out!) When you were a teenager and could finally reach the pedals, you weren’t just thrown into a car and sent out on the road. You had someone who showed you how to use the controls, how to adjust the mirrors, how to check for traffic, how to safely merge onto a busy highway.
Likewise, if you wanted to learn baseball, you probably had a parent, or an older sibling, or a coach show you how to hold the baseball, how to swing your arm to throw it, and when to release it on the arc. Someone showed you how to hold the bat, where to grip it, how to swing it and make contact with the ball in the air. They guided you over and over again, until it became muscle memory.
If you learned to sing, you first watched how others held their bodies as they sang. You were taught how to read music, how to use your diaphragm and to project your voice.
Learning is not just about words on a page. It’s not just about what we understand, about what we know. It’s about far more than that.
John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
En arche en ho logos…
In the beginning was the Word…
Logos. It’s another of those wonderful, rich Greek words. Logos: word, as an expression of a thought. Logos: Divine thought put into a word we can comprehend.
In college I was an English major with a German minor. Two of the classes I took were Intro to the Bible as Literature, and Advanced German. In the Bible as Lit we started out reading the Gospel of John, with our reading for today. In Advanced German, we read Faust by Johann Goethe.
I remember being fascinated by the fact that there was a section in Faust where the main character is trying desperately to translate this word logos.
Faust starts out, “Im Anfang war das Wort!” In the beginning was the word. But he’s not happy with that translation. He feels it doesn’t convey the fullness of logos.
So he tries another translation: “Im Anfang war der Sinn.” In the beginning was the meaning, the reason, the purpose. But again, he’s not satisfied.
In the beginning was “die Kraft”: the power, the strength, the force. I have to admit, I did laugh a bit when I remembered that translation. With the new Star Wars movie coming out this weekend, wouldn’t we just love to have that be the translation of John 1:1:
“In the beginning was the Force!”
And this translation didn’t work for Faust either.
He ends with this: “Im Anfang war die Tat.” In the beginning was the deed, the action.
Word. Meaning. Power. Action.
John 1:1-3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
The Word was with God. The Word was God. In the beginning. Everything created through the logos, the divine thought expressed in a way that we can comprehend, seen in the gorgeous, complex beauty of our universe.
But it didn’t end there!
Our final verse from today’s reading: John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
The word (logos) became flesh and dwelt among us. Flesh — that’s sarx in Greek: physical body, human nature, from a human perspective.
This is the point that Faust missed in his struggles for one word to define logos: word, meaning, power, action. On that first Christmas morning, when Jesus was born, the Word became a part of Creation. The Word, the source of all meaning, the holder of all power, became action incarnate in this world.
That same Word came to us in Jesus, born of Mary, in a humble stable in the little town of Bethlehem. The Word became a tiny, vulnerable human being and lived among us. And we have seen his glory, his grace and truth and love and light, in the midst of our troubled world.
When we allow God’s word to teach us, when we allow Christ’s hand to firmly and lovingly guide ours, we become something more than just us. We become a part of the Word’s incarnation on earth. We become a part of the Christmas story. We become the Word which we have learned — God’s love — made flesh here in our world.
That is the message of hope we can carry to the world this Christmastime.