In the beginning was the Logos….

February 4, 2018

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Preached by Canon Sue Wallace using John 1:1, at Sung Eucharist on Sunday 4th February 2018, Education Sunday the Second before Lent.

Today’s gospel may puzzle you. We have just finished the greater season of Christmas,with the feast of the Presentation

on Friday, and yet suddenly we have been catapulted back into the same gospel we usually have at Midnight mass – “And the word was made flesh”.

Yet taking this text out of the context of Christmas gives us a chance to focus more sharply on John’s beautiful opening words, discovering a little more what he was actually saying when he wrote. “In the beginning was the Word”, describing Jesus, not as a Messiah, not as a prophet or priest but something else entirely.

The Greek text has many shades and layers of meaning:

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος (En arche en ho logos).

William Barclay translates this as “When the world had its beginning the Word was already there.” Before the universe was made the eternal Christ was present. Yet translating Logos as Word belittles its richness. Logos was a Greek philosophical term too. It could be translated as reason, opinion, wisdom or Logic. In the beginning was Logic.

Logos for the Greeks was an important philosophical concept.

Greeks were familiar with the importance of reason. They looked at the world and saw a magnificently structured world order: Night and day following repeatedly, seasons in their unchanging courses, stars and the planets moving in pre-determined ways, nature’s unvarying laws. Who produced this order though? Greeks would say the Logos.

Having that Divine logic and order undergirding our universe is so reassuring in this age when there is so much sin and disorder. It is a sign of hope amidst the chaos of war, illness and insecurity.

For the Greek philosopher Aristotle there was something spiritual and precious about Logos. It is what makes humans special. In the words of Paul Rahe:

“For Aristotle, logos enables the human being to perform as no other animal can; it makes it possible for him to perceive and make clear to others through reasoned discourse the difference between what is advantageous and what is harmful…between what is good and what is evil.”

It is what makes humans into sentient beings, a kind of divine spark.

Jews had a slightly different take on the word logos. For them, translating Logos as Word is more helpful.  Jews were familiar with God’s powerful commands. “Let there be light” and the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew bible often translated encounters with God as encounters with God’s Word.

Words have power and the Jewish people understood that. Words can make a world. A few devastatingly cruel words can destroy a marriage. Two terrifying words in the mouth of someone with a weapon of mass destruction “Nuke em!” – could destroy our entire planet, which is why most nations have safeguards against this happening.

But another way of translating logos could be wisdom. In the beginning was wisdom. And this wisdom, this order, this logic, this divine spark ordering our minds and all creation, became flesh, became touchable when Jesus Christ became human.

Thus it is that in John’s wonderful prologue we see the beauty of logic, the wonder of the marriage of heaven and earth and we can rejoice in this opportunity of a new communion with God, and the future of becoming one with God promised in Jesus Christ.

And so, as we move towards our moment of communion at God’s table I will finish with words of Jean Vanier.

“In the beginning,

before all things

communion was:

communion between God

and the “Logos”- the “Word”.

At one moment in time

the “logos” became flesh

and entered history:

He came to lead us all into this communion

which is the very life of God.”