John 1.1-14 (NRSV)
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.
Words are strange things. They can have multiple meanings in different contexts. They can mean different things to different people. So what does it mean for Jesus to be the Word?
The Word in Greek is Logos. Like other words it has a variety of different meanings. It can mean word, but also it can mean discourse, or The Argument. For the stoic philosophers it was identified with the divine animating principle pervading the universe. John wasn’t the only Jewish writer to use the term Logos . Philo used the term writing “the Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated”. Philo was building on Hebrew ideas. Further back in the Jewish tradition we have the testimony of Wisdom found in the Jewish Scriptures in Hebrew and Greek. Wisdom in active in creation from the beginning, and throughout the Old Testament is referred to as She.
John draws from these sources as he writes his Gospel. But he differs from the portrayal of Wisdom in the Jewish Scriptures and in the writings of Philo - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
In two sentences John draws together the activity of Jewish Holy Wisdom, of the dynamism and the energy of the Logos of Greek philosophical discourse, and recasts it as the second person of the Trinity. This Word is not one that can be easily defined or written down. It is a Wisdom that is greater than any human wisdom, it is an on-going dialogue with the Father and the Spirit that out argues all human argument. The image we should have is not so much the written word or the spoken word but rather the thought word - That internal commentary that we all share within ourselves, that on-going intimate discussion that is our consciousness, our very being or life.
Which is exactly how John develops the picture - 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. Not only does John place the Word, Christ, at the heart of all creation and as the light of all people, but he places all the richness of the meaning of Logos within that light. Our very consciousness and self-awareness is part of the light of the world because it comes into being through him.
If our self-awareness, our life and humanity find its source in Christ, the eternal Logos, the ever-living word, then the darkness can be seen as the loss of that humanity and awareness. C.S.Lewis in that Hideous Strength and in the Great Divorce explored the idea that the further we drift from that light, the more that we embrace the darkness, the more inhuman we become and ultimately consciousness fades. Hell then for Lewis was a descent not into eternal conscious torment but the eternal loss of conscious awareness altogether. I am unsure which is more terrifying.
John however speaks with triumphant hope, proclaiming that - The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. This alternative trajectory is the fullness of life, a greater sense of being and awareness, a closer and closer affinity to the source of all thought, all consciousness, all life and light in the eternal to follow. As John describes - But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. To be children of God is to grow every more in God-likeness, what the Orthodox describe as Theosis.
How can this aspiration be achieved, through human philosophy, through good works, through study and reflection? The answer is given in the entirety of John’s gospel. But John introduces here an outline of the gospel - 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. Although our very being reflects Christ, it is God who reaches out us in the incarnation and reveals his Glory. The fullness of God is found in human flesh living among us.
This same Christ is present with us in bread and wine in the Eucharist. As we receive him today let us commit to living in the fullness of his life and light.