Say the word and you'll be free
Say the word and be like me
Say the word I'm thinking of
Have you heard the word is love?
It's so fine, it's sunshine
It's the word, love.
So sang the Beatles in the song “The Word” from their 1965 album Rubber Soul. The album marked a period of transition in the Fab Four’s music, focusing less on individual singles and more on the quality of songwriting and instrumentation for whole albums.
It’s my second-favorite Beatles album for this reason and “The Word” was always one of those catchy songs that I would sing along to in the car for its upbeat lyrics. John Lennon is said to have written the song to express an idea that love is the “underlying theme” of the universe, pondered, no doubt, in response to a time of social and political unrest and of protest and reform with the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.
I wasn’t around in 1965, but I can safely say that Lennon’s musings about love remain relevant to us as we head into 2024. As we witness what’s happening in the Middle East, Ukraine, and in our own country and culture, we hope to find love amid global discord.
The word is love. It’s sunshine. We hear somewhat similar words this morning penned from another John—John the Evangelist—that delve further into the concept of love in a time of darkness:
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.
Talk about a prologue and cosmic vision!
According to the Rev. Dr. Allen Hilton, who taught at Yale Divinity School and currently serves as Executive Director of House United, the power of John’s prologue lies in the fact that it opens the same way as in Genesis, with the words “In the beginning…” But whereas Genesis continues with “God created the heavens and the earth,” John continues exploring God’s being, not God’s doing or creating. Just as God speaks light into being in Genesis, John discusses this light that not only is part of the cosmos, but also that comes to part of God’s created cosmos, Earth, in the form of a life, in Jesus Christ. John’s prologue opens with a clear statement about Jesus’ identity that we don’t see in the openings of the Gospels of Matthew, Mark or Luke: that Jesus is God incarnate.
Pretty amazing. I wonder how the writers of the other three Gospel traditions would have responded to John. We can speculate Matthew would say Jesus is the Messiah. Mark would say he is the suffering Son of God (Son of God in Hebrew Scripture is a term used for humans who had special relationships with God or sometimes for angels). Luke would say Jesus is a savior for all people. But to say outright that Jesus is God incarnate, the eternal Son of God who reveals the nature of the Creator is the most theological of these four Christological views.
So let’s look at John’s opening a bit more closely. The term “the Word,” which in Greek, is known as logos, denotes not just the unit of speech known as a word, but also the rational discourse of logic exercised by Western rhetoricians and philosophers. John was no doubt influenced by some of these thinkers including Philo, Plato and the Stoics.
Logos is an ordering principle. Applied to John’s opening, God spoke the Word that already existed as God, and that spoken Word brought creation into being and placed that creation where it needed to be. The implication here is that the process was not random or meaningless. There was and still is a logic, a reason, a purpose to the created cosmos and everything in it.
John’s opening seems almost magical and poetic, but he blends literary artistry with rhetorical logic the way he does themes of light and dark to drive home a crucial point: The Word became flesh and lived among us. The logos of God that gave birth to the universe now became human. If there’s a logic to the created cosmos, then why would God do this? John’s answer? To enlighten and make known the character (ethos) of God.
And why do that? According to John, God does this so that all who receive the Word and believe in his name can become children of God, born of God. In other words, so that we can belong and have relationship with God and each other.
Our reading this morning from Paul’s letter to the Galatians also tells us how God sent his Son and the Spirit of his Son so that we would become children of God. Again, Jesus is the one who reveals God the Creator by reason of his coming to us in flesh and living among us. And living among us, or in some translations, making his home among us, as some scholars contend, is the equivalent of “pitching a tent,” a reference to the tabernacle, where God dwells with the Israelites. The fact that God in Jesus comes to dwell among us, being the light shining in our darkness, says something very important about the Incarnation. As this Gospel writer later tells us in 3:16, “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son.” Think about that for a moment. God loves us so much that God chooses to dwell with us as a human. God wants relationship with us and does so by becoming one of us to know us more deeply and to make God’s character known to us. That Jesus, the Emmanuel, a word meaning “God with us,” pitches his tent among us to bring us the glory (another word for light) of God’s grace and truth shows that right relationship is part of cosmic purpose.
Sometimes it’s easy to feel separate from God if we allow ourselves to get so caught up in the darkness that plagues our lives. We see the unrest around us in the news or in our local communities. We might even face personal unrest that comes from loss or injury. We might look at these things and ask ourselves: Where is God in all of this? What’s the meaning of it all? Does it mean anything? Why doesn’t God intervene? What if God doesn’t care? Why has God forsaken me?
But Jesus’ revelation to us is that God never forsakes us. God is always with us, in our sufferings as much as in our joys. God offers us companionship rather than a panacea. The sight of a crucifix reminds us that the sufferings along with the joys of carnal reality can be sacred experiences which invite deeper relationship with God. And if we choose that deeper relationship, then the enlightening logic of God’s created cosmos, the truth and purpose of existence which Jesus, the Word made flesh, showed us through his death and resurrection becomes revealed in one word: love. That is the character, the ethos, of God. Love. That is the fabric of the universe, the purpose.
That is the light that shines in the darkness
that darkness will not ever overcome.
It’s the Word.