For this final Sunday before the church season changes from Christmas to Epiphany, the traditional Gospel reading is John’s ultra-famous formulation that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Several verses later, John writes that “He [the Word] 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.”
This is all quite poetic, and also full of poignancy, with those who are created not knowing their own Creator.
It also, of course, is an obvious play on, well, words, with John likening Christ, through his use of the word “logos,” to the common Greek understandings of “logos” to mean “right reason” or “knowledge” – or something that is rightly or logically in order (rather than disorder). Or, put another way, “logos” means wisdom, a concept usually connected with deep and utter truth, a truth that is different and more important than the provable knowledge of mere science.
This is all nothing new, as most people understand that John is saying that Christ is the very essence of the wisdom of, and before, all worlds. (As an aside, “wisdom” is a repeated theme of several other readings appointed for this day in the Revised Common Lectionary, namely those from Sirach, from the Wisdom of Solomon, and from Ephesians.)
Yet what should grab our attention is not merely the initial metaphor, but the poignant reality (just those few verses later) of the Word not being known by those who should best know him – the oxymoron of unknown knowledge, the tragedy of wisdom ignored, the illogic of disorder. Even as God became incarnate specifically so He and the world could better know each other, the world did not recognize the incarnation.
This is worse than a prophet without honor in his own country; this is God not being understood by His own created world.
If the story ended there – if John 1:11 were the final verse – this would be a disaster of both epic and epochal proportions.
Yet it is not the final verse. The very next line indicates that at least part of the world was able to receive the wisdom that was the Word: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
This is wisdom received, and it ought to be received wisdom. It ought to be generally, indeed universally, accepted that, as John then writes, “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
This is no small thing. Indeed, it should to us be everything. To know God, to see Him face to face, to recognize the truth, to accept the wisdom of God’s profound logic, is grace indeed. When presented with logos, we will be immeasurably gifted if we only listen and try to comprehend.
Comprehend – and one thing more. The novelist and essayist Walker Percy wrote an essay called “The Message in the Bottle,” positing the existence of a castaway desperate for news/knowledge of a certain deep and important kind – and the existence, finally, of a particular newsbearer (think either John the Baptist or John the Evangelist):
“What if the news the newsbearer bears is the very news the castaway had been waiting for, news of where he came from and who he is and what he must do, and what if the newsbearer brought with him the means by which the castaway may do what he must do? Well then, the castaway will, by the grace of God, believe him.”
When presented with the Word, we must do likewise.
Quin Hillyer is a veteran conservative columnist. He has an undergraduate degree in Theology from Georgetown University and has served for years in various forms of ecumenical lay leadership.