In the name of the One true God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
Recently at another Church I work at as Christian Education Director I was leading a lesson on the Incarnation. In the middle of the lesson a young student raised their hand and said, “My grandfather does not believe in heaven.” After he finished another younger student said “My mother does not believe in God”. Silence. What does one say in a moment like that? It’s easy to be sectarian or even patronizing and say something like “Maybe your grandfather or your mother lack the faith you have? Maybe your grandfather or maybe your mother failed to see God in their midst? “
All I said was something like, “hold onto the love for God you have.” To that love of God you have received. I thought some more about the two student’s remarks, and their concern, and about my answer to their declarations. After all, they hadn’t asked questions. They merely said statements.
Our Gospel reading from this morning deals with the age old questions of belief.
Before us this morning were the words of a poet. Before us this morning in our midst and dwelling among us were living words, words which for but a few moments of being heard struck us with an intensity which can only come from God our Father. In these words lay almost innumerable images which provoke the mind and give a sort of lightness to our at times heavy hearts. These words from John’s Prologue speak of word and flesh, light and dark, bearing witness, human will, and receiving belief.
At all times and in all places these words have been timely and they have been needed by many. With the thoughts of incarnation preying inwardly on our minds of late in this season, the words of John; “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” strike at us in our own particular ways. Perhaps we greet these words curiously, or perhaps they conjure up enigmas and mysteries, or perhaps they only sit within our heads for a short while, and then quickly flit away replaced with the daily stresses and often consuming thoughts of our daily lives. These words are familiar, famous the world over even.
When reading John’s Prologue again recently I was struck by the word “with” in the English or “pros” in the Greek. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. With God. In the Greek “pros” translates literally as “toward”, toward God. The Word incarnate, Jesus, was in the direction of God, it was in the midst of God, it was moving. This preposition presupposes movement. It was in the direction of God. It wasn’t stagnant. It wasn’t still. It was with God. It was with the creator, the Father of all who in his creativity is always expanding, always sending, always doing, He has a Son, the incarnate Word who was before all things coexisting in a movement of power and transformation which was sent into the world. Sent. Moving towards, coming into the world.
The drama of the Prologue is only built up to greater heights as it continues. We are told that the very essence of our being of our existences is owed to the Word, things were made through it, life came from it. The style of writing that is throughout John’s Prologue is often referred to as “staircase parallelism”. That is to say the last word of a sentence or clause is repeated and furthered and emphasized in the next sentence. Word and word, life and life, light and light, receive and receive. The writer wanted to make sure certain theological points were made clearly.
In the middle of these eighteen verses there is a timely verse which which concerns belief. And in the verse is the the word “right”, “right to become children of God” right, or authority, or power as it sometimes translates. We are reminded, albeit briefly by John, that when we receive Christ, and believe in him, we are given a right, a privilege, a sort of authority. Not to be children of God, no, but to become children of God as the text declares. To have the right or ability to become.
Authority or the right to become children of God.
Perhaps in many ways this is what lays at the bottom of disbelief, or distrust, or doubt in God at the present time. One may stray away from or avoid altogether a belief in God. In the true God. They may do it not out of any lack of faith or any absence of a knowledge of the Divine. No, you see I don’t always think that is quite it. No, I think at times, perhaps more often than not one may fear the authority that is given them when they give themselves over to believing. They may fear that right, that privilege that can and only does come from the Father. One fears it out of ones own desire to not be held accountable, to not be left to make a decision. To not fully allow oneself to move towards God. After all, with authority, and right, and privilege comes accountability, and that is a fearful prospect for some. To be one’s own end is to be void, utterly void of accountability.
When looking through the original Greek texts I was struck by something in particular. Verse five states, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Has not overcome it.
Verses 11 & 12 read,”he came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” who did receive him.
In an English translation a profound connection between these verses is lost. There seems to be a sort of continued parallelism which is lost in English and found in the Greek. There is actually a relationship in the Greek between the words “overcome” and “receive”.
The light shines, that incarnate word made flesh, Jesus, shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Or seized it, found it, won it, caught it. No. the darkness remained unable to attain, to overcome the light. The Word.
And verses 11 and 12? He came to his own. Jesus the word with God, came to his own people perhaps? Or the world? They didn’t receive him, they didn’t take him in, they didn’t accept him. The darkness did not overcome it, and the world did not receive it.
But to all who did receive him, to all who took him in, to all who did not just receive him, but as John declares, “believed in his name”, what is their outcome? What is their payment, our payment. What is given to us when we revive him, and believe in his name? We are given the right to become children of God. We are given the right to begin to turn. We are given the right to shed the world and darkness and turn. We are given authority to reject the darkness and embrace the light. The true light. To be given the ability to not be born of the will of man, but of God. To not be our own ends but to embrace and receive and believe in the end that was in the beginning and has no end.