Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
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 (John 1:1-18 – NRSV)
This text is from the Prologue of John’s Gospel. None of the other Gospels – the Synoptic Gospels as they are generally called because they share a more or less common way of “seeing all together” the life and teaching of Jesus – has a Prologue or anything like it.
In John’s Prologue we are introduced to all the significant themes and words that will be dealt with in the Gospel itself. For example:
- the pre-existence of the Logos or Son (1:1-2 & in 17:5);
- in him was life (1:4 & 5:26);
- life is light (1:4 & 8:12);
- light rejected by darkness (1:5 & 3:19);
- yet not quenched by it (1:5 & 12:35);
- light coming into the world (1:9 & 3:19 and 12:46);
- Christ not received by his own (1:11 & 4:44);
- being born of God and not of flesh (1:13 & 3:6 and 8:41-42);
- seeing his glory (1:14 & 12:41);
- the one and only son (1:14, 18 & 3:16);
- truth in Jesus Christ (1:17 & 14:6);
- no one has seen God except the one who comes from God (1:18 & 6:46).
“Many of the central, thematic words of this Gospel are first introduced in these verses: life, light (1:4), witness (1:7), true (in the sense of ‘genuine’ or ‘ultimate’, 1:9), world (1:10), glory, truth (1:14). But supremely, the Prologue summarizes how the ‘Word’ which was with God in the very beginning came into the sphere of time, history, tangibility—in other words, how the Son of God was sent into the world to become the Jesus of history, so that the glory and grace of God might be uniquely and perfectly disclosed. The rest of the book is nothing other than an expansion of this theme” (D A Carson, The Gospel According to John, W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, 110-111.)
Reflection – Hope
Christmas evokes many different reactions and responses. There are those who would happily dispense with it. Others welcome it for commercial reasons. Still others dread it for family reasons. Some love it for the holidays it brings. And so it goes. Listen within: What does your faith tell you? In this Feast we celebrate the most momentous event in the history of the cosmos: “The Word became flesh”! The Divine is united in love with the human, the eternal with the temporal, the infinite with the finite. Utterly incomprehensible, but true. I cannot prove it or even begin to explain it, but I believe it.
Our faith in the Incarnation – the enfleshing of God – is the ground on which we stand, the basis of all that we are and seek and do. It is the source of our values, our motivation, our life decisions and our commitments. It is also the source of hope.
Hope is much more than optimism. Optimism is the conviction that things will turn out as we want them to. Optimism is not enough. It is too flimsy to support the seriousness of human longing. Optimism may defeat pessimism, for a time, but it will in the end be defeated by despair. Hope is the conviction that good will triumph over evil in the end. Yes, today, evil might have the victory. However, in the end, goodness and truth will be victorious. We know this because God is united with us and we with God through the Incarnation.
On Saturday 19 August 2000, Pope John Paul II addressed an assembly of young people at the University of Rome (Tor Vergata). The occasion was the 15th World Youth Day. Interestingly enough, the motto of that university is, “Today, the University of Tomorrow” (“Oggi, l’ateneo del domani”). Surely a hope-filled motto! The Pope’s words to the young people gathered there are relevant to us all, especially in these times of great change and uncertainty and even confusion. In part he said:
“It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal” (#5).
What makes Christmas Christmas, is Jesus, God-enfleshed. His name is Emmanuel, “God is with us”. Amidst the stresses and strains, the conviviality and genuine joy, do not forget that. He is the source of our hope.