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.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 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.
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. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
The year draws to a close with the famous opening of St John’s gospel, the reading that is so closely associated with Church services at Christmas. When we read these famous words, carefully and prayerfully, we cannot help but realize what a perfect introduction it is. The opening words: In the beginning was the Word takes us back to the story of creation, as it also reveals much of what is to come. The unforgettable opening of John’s gospel connects the unfolding gospel narrative to the entire history of God’s relationship with humanity. The climax of the account of creation that we read in the first chapter of Genesis is the creation of human beings, in the image of God. In the first chapter of John’s gospel we see the closing of a circle as God arrives in human form: the Word became flesh and lived among us.
John’s use of the phrase the Word is particularly powerful. As we speak, as words leave our mouths, they take on a life and meaning of their own. No matter how carefully they are crafted and delivered, the way our words are received, understood and interpreted depends on context, mood and willingness to hear. The coincidence of these conditions rarely align, which means that the words we say can, so often, have their true meaning distorted. Once uttered, our words take on a new life and meaning over which we have little, or no, control! They take on a new life and meaning which cannot easily be retracted or refined.
Of course, words also have the power to change the way we think and live. If we are attentive to the words we hear, if we truly listen, rather than merely letting their sound waft over and around us, then words can really lead us to follow a different path. Such words remain in our memories. Such words, if we allow them, can go on having an effect on our lives until the day we pass from this world into the eternal rest of God’s nearer presence.
Throughout the Old Testament God speaks. In the book of the prophet Isaiah we read of God’s word going out to bring life, healing and hope to humanity. That life-giving, healing and hopeful Word of God is Jesus. The Word was, and is, God. If we want to enter into a closer relationship with God we just have to take a long, hard look at Jesus … the Word of God heralded in today’s reading.
2020 has been a challenging year. It has been a year of sadness and uncertainty. It has also been a year that had given us time to listen anew to the Word of God. The question is: have we been listening to that Word? Have we heard the life-giving, healing and hopeful Word? Or, have we shut our ears and minds to the age-old words of God’s love?