Thursday, 27 December 2007

In the Beginning was the Word

‘In the beginning was the Word’. So begins the gospel according to John, and it is John that is commemorated today: John the apostle, and John the gospel-writer or evangelist — perhaps the same person, perhaps not, but apostle and evangelist commemorated as one today.

In this prologue to the good news of Jesus of Nazareth, the evangelist writes in poetic language and connects the eternal Word of God with this living person, Jesus of Nazareth, whom he had known.

In the beginning was the Word

The universe is something that we observe, and in particular something that scientists observe and try to understand. And one of the things that they observe is that there is something about the universe that tends towards what might be called ‘creativity’. At one level this can be explained as a result of electro-magnetic and nuclear forces acting at infinitesimally small distances or of gravity acting over unimaginably large distances. It is these forces that create galaxies and stars, that cause the creation of the elements within these massive stars and the dispersal of these elements around a galaxy to enable younger stars and planets to be formed. At another level it is the creation of localized negative entropy systems (though there is net gain of entropy in the larger closed system) which enables life to exist here on Earth.

This ‘creativity’ seems to be built in to the universe that we inhabit and observe, and to the scientist this can be described by formulations such as the weak anthropic principle (that if the universe were not pretty much like it is then we wouldn’t exist and so wouldn’t be here to observe that it is like this).

In the biological and social spheres we can observe similar tendencies towards creativity — in biological reproduction, and in the care that we as humans try to take towards the young and to those responsible for them, and towards each other. And we see it in our own attempts at creativity — in the arts and in the sciences.

As Christians we can associate this ‘tendency towards creativity’ with the divine creativity. In John’s gospel, following the lead of Greek philosophers, this creativity is called the Word, (the ‘Logos’ in Greek), and the writer reminds us that everything was made through this creativity, nothing was made without it, and that it was there from the very beginning. This can be compared with the poetry of Genesis, in which it is similarly the word of God that brings the universe into existence.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us

And then, says the evangelist, ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’. This creativity, this divine spark, was uniquely focussed in a particular human being, the human being we know as Jesus.

This creativity is revealed in Jesus to be at one with the divine love — love for the creation, love for our fellow creatures, and love for the divine creator. This profound religious truth is revealed to us in the incarnation, in the message of Christmas, and recorded for us by the evangelist, John. And as we struggle towards understanding we can understand too that the creativity and love that is at the heart of our own human existence is also part of that divine creativity, the divine inspiration or inbreathing of the Spirit of God.

We saw his glory, such glory as befits the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth

The glory of God, the glory of creation, is revealed in human love, shown to us in the life and teaching of Jesus who cared about all who suffered, and shown to us today by all who follow that same path.

Posted by Simon Kershaw on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 9:59am GMT | TrackBack
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As a followup to this ‘just thinking’ piece, you may like to listen to this morning's ‘In Our Time’ on BBC Radio 4 about the Nicene Creed. http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/inourtime/inourtime_20071227.shtml

Posted by: Simon Kershaw on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 10:08am GMT

For me, a sad thing about the RCL is that we DON'T read John 1 every year at Christmas. We all know about the shepherds, the angels, the inn, but we, especially in the West, tend to forget that we are celebrating God becoming a human being.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 1:30pm GMT

Interesting and useful way of creating parallels between science and divine literature.

Posted by: Pluralist on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 2:06pm GMT

John's gospel with its Greek cross-references and its mystical tendencies has long been a fav ... thanks. Happy New Year

Posted by: drdanfee on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 3:43pm GMT

An interesting note: John's Gospel uses the word "love" twice as many times as all the other Gospel writers put together!

John is the only Apostolic example of what happens in some possibly 60 years (at least two generations) after a personal experience of Jesus's life, death. and resurrection -- in addition to being Jesus's special "beloved disciple". All the other Evangelists were Johnny-com-latelys compared to John.

As tends to be true for other long-lived saints, the mystical dimension becomes more and more important the longer one lives....and the center of that dimension is love, not just dogma or factual history!

Posted by: John-Julian, OJN on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 4:05pm GMT

Simon -

Amidst all the carrying on in the Anglican Communion, I just want to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours. You have created a great place here at TA and I thank you.

TA has been a beacon for lots. Thanks for all you do.

Posted by: andrewdb on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 4:19pm GMT

"An interesting note: John's Gospel uses the word "love" twice as many times as all the other Gospel writers put together!"

I hope you all realize Greek distinguishes between Agape, Eros, Porneia and Filia. Sometimes I seriously wonder if the deficiency of English in this regard is the root of most liberal misconceptions.

Posted by: JND on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 5:18pm GMT

"TA has been a beacon for lots. Thanks for all you do."

I want to echo that. Every time someone asks about what's going on in TEC and the Anglican Communion, this is where I send them.

It is especially helpful to have full texts or links to full texts of documents, since the secular press, constrained by space and time, almost always presents excerpts.

Having the documents from the Virginia lawsuits has meant that I can direct lawyer friends to this site and then ask them to let me know their professional take on things.

And although we can be sharp with each other, on the whole, the quality of comment is excellent, especially in comparison to some of the venom and crudity I've seen in other places.

Happy New Year!

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 6:51pm GMT

I remember integrating the big-bang theory with God with my daughter. I said that God said "Let there be light". My daughter told me I was wrong, God said "Bang!"

She was right, of course.

Posted by: Cheryl Va. Clough on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 6:55pm GMT

"Sometimes I seriously wonder if the deficiency of English in this regard is the root of most liberal misconceptions."

No. My native language isn't English and I labour under the same "misconceptions".

Any chance we could agree that they are a "different way of interpreting" rather than "misconceptions"?

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 6:56pm GMT

dear JND;

please spout your ignorance elsewhere if you want to take cheap shots. To the best of my knowledge 'porneia' is not conventionally translated as 'love'. I think whatever tatty little document you have in front of you is selling you a line. Try 'fratria' and be grateful I got to you before Goran!

Posted by: mynsterpreost (=David Rowett) on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 7:37pm GMT

I too would like to thank Simon, Simon and Peter for TA. You have created an outstanding and very precious source of information and a safe place for exploration and conversation.

To the three of you and all you thoughtful and often witty contributors - Thank you all very much!

Posted by: Erika Baker on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 8:58pm GMT

“I hope you all realize Greek distinguishes between Agape, Eros, Porneia and Filia. Sometimes I seriously wonder if the deficiency of English in this regard is the root of most liberal misconceptions.”

2nd Commandment porneía of course has got nothing to do with love in any sense; prostitution, whether Cultic or not, always is oppression and coercion, but n o, Greek does not distinguish between Agape, Eros and Filia. Instead they are virtually indistinguishable and inter-changeable the way the early anti Moderns into “Dynamic Equivalence” imagined OT Greek (and Latin and Vernacular) words to be.

Pace a certain 1950ies Bishop at Lund Eros is not fleshlier than Agape or Filia. So this is not a “librul” misconception, but an anti Modern one.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Thursday, 27 December 2007 at 9:52pm GMT

"Sometimes I seriously wonder if the deficiency of English in this regard is the root of most liberal misconceptions."

Most times, I believe that most conservative misconceptions are based on their not understanding what 'metanoia' means. That and what 'sin' means. And just because Greek has four different words for 'love' is no excuse for conservatives not practising love with any of those meanings..

Posted by: Ford Elms on Friday, 28 December 2007 at 1:06pm GMT

Simon: Many thanks for your meditation and may the blessings of the Incarnation be upon you this season and in the new year. I will be quoting you in my Christmas 1 sermon. (And I'm saddened and sorry that comment on your lovely piece has devolved into bickering and shown once again how broken we are.)

Posted by: Eric Funston on Saturday, 29 December 2007 at 2:58pm GMT
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