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)
It’s epic, isn’t it. The minute that music starts and the prologue to the movie begins to scroll, we immediately know what this is the beginning to--even more so if you’ve been paying any attention to what new movies have been released this weekend.
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…” It is these words that begin the story of the mythical Star Wars universe. It is the epic story of the primal battle between good and evil. The Empire versus the Rebels. The Jedi versus the Sith. Characters like Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader play out their personal struggles with temptation, fall, conflict, and redemption in the midst of the broader, universal battle.
It’s the story of the Force. According to Obi-Wan Kenobi, “The Force is what gives a Jedi his (and her) power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” The “light side of the Force” serves as a metaphor for the invisible, powerful source of goodness, truth and life. According to the story, somehow an imbalance has happened in the universe with the intrusion of the dark side. The dark side, which is a metaphor for evil, falsehood, and death.
The Star Wars franchise uses these metaphors of light versus dark to frame the epic struggle to restore balance to the Force. Balance isn’t achieved by equalizing the dark side and the light side. Balance is gained by vanquishing--by eliminating--the dark side completely. Because evil has brought chaos. It is only the victory of the light that brings true order.
The first verse of our text this morning from John also meant to trigger our memory. Just like the beginning of each Star Wars movie, the opening words are intended to immediately connect us to another epic story. These opening words, the first verse of this poem we call the Prologue of John.
“In the beginning…” it opens. Where have we heard this before? Do these words trigger your memory? There’s no mistaking the connection to Genesis that John is making here. No mistaking the cosmic nature of the story that we are about to hear.
“In the beginning was the Word…” Word.
We’re going to study a little Greek here today. In the Greek, Word is written as Logos.
By divine speech, by divine Word, God created. Bringing light into darkness. Order out of chaos. God speaks and the world is created. God speaks and crowns this new creation with human beings--beings who are meant to be God’s personal agents of glory and goodness in the world.
And, then, it all falls apart. Though human beings were meant to mediate God’s order in the world, evil plunged the universe into devastation and chaos. So God made a plan. A new thing.
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.”
The Greek word that John uses here for the word “with” can be understood as being “face to face” with God, or having a close relationship with God. The same as the Creator, but distinct from the Creator.
The Word. Present at the beginning of all time. With a creative role. In relationship with the Creator. Who now comes to earth in human form. The Word. Logos. Jesus.
At the heart of Jesus coming into the world. At the heart of Jesus’ presence in the world is a sign that God is about to do a new thing. In this fourth Gospel, Jesus is all about creation, new birth, and new life. The light in the darkness.
That new thing is explained in another Greek word, skenao. In verse 14, our translation reads, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Skenao. Another translation is “took up residence.” Or as The Message paraphrase reads, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.”
This is the new thing that God is doing. God dwells with God’s people. The Gospel writer understands that God’s promise to be “with God’s people wherever they go” has now taken on a new meaning in Jesus. God dwells with us by taking on our own human form. By becoming who we are. God is not just close, but dwells beside us and in us. And is sharing everything God has because of God’s love for us.
There’s one more Greek word. Katalambano.
In verse 5, this word is translated as “overcome.” “The light shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” Another translation is “to understand.” “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not understand it.”
To be in the light in John’s gospel is to be in relationship with Jesus. Understanding. Believing. Abiding. Darkness represents a lack of relationship. Not understanding. Not believing. Apart.
Just as Jesus was in relationship with the Creator at the beginning of time, in coming to earth in human form, God seeks to be in relationship with us, just as God continuously sought to be in relationship with Israel. The presence of Jesus now in the world makes that fully possible. Through Jesus, we become children of God.
John the Baptist understood this. He knew that he was not the light, but that he was to point to the light. To point to Jesus--Jesus, who came into the world to scatter the darkness. To correct the imbalance. To restore goodness and truth and life. And to destroy evil and falsehood and death. The moment of glory would be the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. But none of this would be possible without first the glory of the incarnation. The light shining in the darkness.
John the Baptist was a witness to this light. To this Word made flesh. To Jesus.
We are, too. Witnesses to Jesus in the way in which we live in the world. To serve as forces of light and truth against the agents of darkness and deception. To be God’s own Jedi knights into the world. And especially to be in relationship with God. Intimately. With the Force who loves us deeply.
(after clip is concluded:) May the Force be with you. Amen.
Preached December 17, 2017, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
4th Sunday of Advent
Readings: Psalm 130:5-8, John 1:1-18