First Thoughts on Year C Gospel Passages from the Lectionary

Christmas 2

William Loader

Christmas 2: 3 January John 1:(1-9), 10-18

Underlying this wonderful opening to John’s gospel is the myth of Sophia or Wisdom. Already hailed in Proverbs 8 as God’s close companion, almost consort, but primarily as God’s child and delight, Wisdom became the focus of reflection in many streams of Jewish thought. Some developed the theme of Wisdom as God’s agent in creation. From an image praising God’s wisdom in creation it became a story: Wisdom was God’s companion in creation. We see this stream flowing also in Sirach, especially Sirach 24, in the Wisdom of Solomon, especially chapter 7. It continues through into the writings of Philo and the New Testament. We see it here in John where Wisdom is now called Logos/Word, who both was God and was with God and through whom God made all things.

Another rich development was the idea that Wisdom sought companionship among human beings. One version, found in Sirach 24 and in Baruch 3-4, celebrates how Wisdom found a dwelling place in Israel. A more pessimistic stream spoke of wisdom seeking a dwelling and finding no resting place (1 Enoch 42). Our passage belongs to the latter stream. It asserts that only in Jesus was there anything like a successful visitation.

God’s Wisdom was closely associated with God’s Word and, in some circles, very explicitly with the Law, the Torah (Sirach, Baruch, Wisdom). Already in Proverbs wise counsel is pictured as a woman appealing to young men on the streets. It is a striking image, forged as the opposite of the image of folly which is pictured as a street walking prostitute luring young men into her den. The language of the love affair features often in the imagery (eg. Sirach 51:13-22; Wisdom 6:12 – 8:21). According to the Q traditions of the sayings of Jesus, he too employed wisdom imagery. She sends prophets to Israel (Luke 11:49), as she sent John and Jesus (Luke 7:31-35). The image of wisdom most likely also lies behind the cry to Jerusalem about having wanted to gather her children as a hen gathers her chickens (Luke 13:34-35) and behind the invitation to take up the yoke of learning and find rest (Matthew 11:28-30).

It makes sense to link together: the divine Law, the order of creation and Wisdom. It is like saying: here we see the real meaning of life, the principle which holds all things together, the way God intended things to be. The fact that the Stoics also spoke of a universal order in reality and called it ‘logos’ made the image all that more attractive.

John’s gospel exploits the imagery to the full. It draws on almost the full range of the myth: creation and the created order, God’s wisdom seeking a place to dwell and God’s wisdom as God’s word. Later in the gospel we will find other creative use of images commonly applied to God’s Law, like light and life, bread and water. They are Old Testament images familiar to us: ‘Your word is a lamp to our feet, a light for our path’; ‘Come, all who are thirsty, come to the waters!’.

The gospel writer has composed the overture to the gospel using the theme songs of wisdom. The effect is to assert and celebrate that Jesus is that word and wisdom of whom they sang. This is a stupendous claim. It amounts to saying: in Jesus we find life’s meaning, God’s word, the true Torah. In him life makes sense. He is everything that people hoped for in looking to the Scriptures, especially the Torah. He is God, as Wisdom is God and God’s, yet is so without losing his distinctive identity (1:1; 1:18). For he is with God and in all things subordinate to God. That is why he is able to make God known (1;18).

So the imagery of the myth now serves to make a statement about Jesus Christ. In him God’s wisdom, God’s Word dwelt among us. Earlier ventures faced rejection, but now he has tented among us like a moving tabernacle. The divine glory which hovered over the tabernacle and which Moses only half glimpsed on Mount Sinai (Exodus 33-34) we saw in him, for his glory is God’s glory. The Law had been a gift of God’s grace to Israel, but now its function is solely to point to him. All its attributes become his attributes, for only in him is true bread, living water, real life and light to be found.

John is a gospel of radical simplifications. To have a relationship of openness to Christ is to have a relationship of openness to God and share his (eternal) life. It is to be connected to what makes sense of reality, its ‘logic’, its logos. This is what the complex traditions of Israel are finally all about. This relationship is defined in terms of love – love in all directions and that is true knowledge and true wisdom, grace and truth. Everything else, even the stories of Jesus, become mere pointers to this reality. John takes us back to basics – back to ‘the beginning’.

Epistle: Christmas 2: 3 January  Ephesians 1:3-14

Return to Home Page