Glory in the flesh

31 December 2017
First Sunday after Christmas
I Christmas ABC (RCL)

Isaiah 61:13 – 62:3
Psalm 147:13-21
Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7
John 1:1-18

There is a lot of scholarly speculation about from where John the Evangelist borrowed the term “logos.” Some see it as a borrowing from Stoicism; others as from Gnosticism (though I’ve never understood that — all of the gnostic texts we have that use the term ‘logos’ post-date John’s Gospel). Some think he got it from Philo. I think a reading of the Gospel indicates that wherever he got it, he made it his own. It is Jesus’ own ‘words’ and ‘word’ that become definitive of the Johannine community.

And certainly, the prologue of John’s Gospel could only have been written by someone steeped in a Jewish understanding of creation. The Logos looks an awful lot like Wisdom in Proverbs 9 and other creation accounts in the Wisdom tradition. And the whole movement of the prologue looks like a Jewish understanding of history. God created, and what God created was light. The light shone in the darkness – that phrase could pretty well sum up the prophetic understanding of Israel’s purpose in the world. The movement of the prologue is from the eternal to the temporal. Many speculate that the verses about John the Baptist are misplaced in the prologue, but they signal that movement.

He came into his own (the noun here is neuter – his own things), but his own (now the noun is masculine) people did not accept him. That sounds a lot like the second half of Isaiah. But to those who did receive him, he gave power to become children of God, like Israel was intended to be. These children were born not of blood (ordinary human birth) or of the will of the flesh (circumcision?) or of the will of a man (a reference to Jesus’ questionable parentage?), but of God.

And the word became flesh and dwelt among us. Now the movement of the prologue brings into view the Johannine community. We beheld his glory. The Son, who lies in the father’s bosom, has made him known, just as the disciple who lies in Jesus’ bosom will make him known. We become the flesh in which the Word tabernacles.

The passage from Isaiah speaks of Jerusalem’s glory, when God restores her fortunes and invites the nations to worship there. John the Evangelist has read passages like this, and transferred that glory to Jesus, and then to his community. We have been clothed in the robe of righteousness, and crowned by God with glory – when the nations come to worship with us.

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