The essence of God

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Gen 1:1-5, 12-19, 1 Jn 1:1-9, John 20:1-8, by Rev Ellie

St John the Evangelist: Patronal Festival

There’s a reason St John has his patronal festival straight after Christmas – it’s not some random placement in the liturgical calendar – it’s because what John writes about is so integral to our faith. There’s a reason why John 1:1-14 is read out every single Christmas at one of the services. John is the only Gospel writer who actually tries to wrestle with the very essence of God. Who he is. Not what he did. Not a factual account with retrospective insertions, or the fact that Jesus had Davidic ancestry as you’ll find in Matthew. But actual theology. ‘Ology’ the study of ‘theos’ God.

I am going to speak on John, even though we have the Gospel passage on Mary Magdelene inadvertently becoming the first missionary of the Resurrected Christ. A woman who stays at Christ’s side – both when he was on the Cross and there at the empty tomb. Mary was the first person to speak with the risen Christ. Mary was the one who shared that information with the others. A woman. A story that has a much greater impact than history has ever given her credit for.

Genesis 1

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.”

John 1

“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.

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. 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.”

“In the beginning. We have traced what we have seen and heard, from the beginning.” Each of the Gospel writers does this – each has their own particular slant on what is important to them, in the beginning. But John does something different to the other three – Matthew, Luke and Mark. He actually tried to wrestle with the very essence of God. Theos. The study of God. In the Gospel of John – not the passage we have today, but in the first chapter which you’ll have heard over Christmas, there is poetry interspersed with prose. Similar to the Psalms, and parts of Isaiah. These nuances are lost in more contemporary translations, but worth looking at. The prologue at the beginning of the Gospel John relates back to that of Genesis.

In the beginning – the very same phrase is used in the Greek translation of the Hebraic Scriptures – what you might call the Old Testament. In Genesis, the reference is to the beginning of Creation, in John’s Gospel, it is to the absolute beginning in the sphere of God. Creation is not mentioned until verse 3! The parallels continue with themes of word, creation, light and darkness.. 

We should remember that the creation of each stage in Genesis is as a result of God’s word. In St John’s Gospel, the creation is seen as coming into being through the Word. In Genesis, God’s word creates light, and St John’s Gospel references the Word in relation to humanity in terms of light. We have the word play with light and dark, where in Genesis it relates more to ‘day’ and ‘night.’

More importantly, we have the deep study of God that takes the meaning of the Word. In the beginning was the Word. There are many descriptive terms for God, and in the Hebraic Scriptures you’ll find that he most often referred to as The LORD. So, the use of the Word, has a precedent. 

One of the commentators, I read in preparation, writes:

some have seen a possible influence from Stoic usage, in which the Logos stood for the rational principle guiding and directing all things. But in Stoicism this principle alone was regarded as divine, so that there would’ve been no precedent for the notions of both God and the logos existing together.

We find the same in the first letter of John, though it’s not as intense. It’s not as deep. It’s as though the writer of this letter understands that people just simply cannot grasp the immense essence of who God is. 

1 John 1

“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.” 

Yet again, we have another perspective on our engagement with who God is and what he means for us. This letter unpacks the prologue of the Gospel of John in a way that makes it more digestible. Easier to understand.

We have moved from the notion of light and dark to the reference of God and Christ being the light of all people. In John’s Gospel, the Word was already pre-existent. It simply was in the beginning, and at God’s side. God spoke and the Word created. What God was, the Word was.

“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,”

An emphatic statement about the role of the Word in creation. A good summary of Genesis 1, isn’t it? Without God’s Word, creation wouldn’t have come about. 

I’m going on a small tangent here, for those of you going ‘yadda, yadda, yadda, thinking about evolution.’ Had it ever occurred to you that the way in which the Genesis story was written actually reflects the way in which the theory of evolution is put forward? Evolution: Big Bang, light and dark, water, land and air, amoeba, fish, plants, animals, humans. We in our enlightenment accept this is the way that we have evolved into the superior beings we are. One question, I leave with you from my tangent: how did the creators of Genesis all those thousands upon thousands of years ago know what we have ‘discovered’ in the past 200 years? How did they know?

So, back to the Word and “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.’ John has now associated the Word with life and light. 

“In him was life, God’s energising and life-giving power, sustaining created existence in relation to its creator, and the life was the light of humans, displaying and communicating to knowledge of God to humanity.

In the opposition between light and darkness, the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. As well as ‘overcome’,you could use ‘to grasp/comprehend/understand’ as well as ‘to master/overcome.’”

In the letter of John,

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

It’s pretty self-explanatory. If we choose to do something that is not life-giving, or encouraging, then we do not live in the light. 

If we want to build people up in their faith, put a desire in their hearts to want to come to church – in the words of the Epistle writer:

“we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

If we walk in the light, we should have no fear. None. No fear of those who wish us harm, be it physical, mental or spiritual. The darkness has no place in the light of Christ, it simply cannot overcome. We come to this building, for fellowship. For encouragement. In joy, peace and love. All those things we spoke about during Advent. 

Let us continue in that, holding each other up when faced with whatever adverse circumstances come our way. Support each other when behaviours should be questioned, help out and work as a team for the good of this church in this town, sharing the light of Christ as a united entity, knowing that what we have in Christ, this Word, this light, is what Christ wants for the rest of the world.

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