On today’s Feast of St. John the Evangelist, Father Barron explores the magnificent prologue to his Gospel, which he describes as “John the Evangelist’s great Christmas sermon.” Packed within these few opening verses is a sublime theology of the Incarnation explaining how and why God became man.
I would like to take the opportunity this Christmas season to reflect, however inadequately, on one of the most magnificent passages in the Scriptures, indeed one of the gems of the Western literary tradition: the prologue to the Gospel of John. In many ways, the essential meaning of Christmas is contained in these elegantly crafted lines.
John commences: “In the beginning was the Word…” No first century Jew would have missed the significance of that opening phrase, for the first word of the Hebrew Scriptures, bereshit, means precisely “beginning.” The evangelist is signaling that the story he will unfold is the tale of a new creation, a new beginning. The Word, he tells us, was not only with God from the beginning, but indeed was God. Whenever we use words, we express something of ourselves. For example, as I type these words, I’m telling you what I know about the prologue to the Johannine Gospel; when you speak to a friend, you’re telling him or her how you feel or what you’re afraid of; when an umpire shouts out a call, he’s communicating how he has assessed a play, etc. But God, the sheer act of being itself, the perfect Creator of the universe, is able utterly to speak himself in one great Word, a Word that does not simply contain an aspect of his being but rather the whole of his being. This is why we say that the Word is “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God;” and this is why St. John says that the Word was God.
Then we hear that through this Word “all things came to be.” The Logos of God would necessarily contain the fullness of rationality and order, for he is nothing other than the mind of God. Hence when the Father made the universe, he “consulted” the Son, the way that an artist might consult a preliminary draft or an architect a diagram. The Word is the prototype in which all forms of reasonable structure are implicitly present. And this is precisely why the universe is not dumbly there but intelligibly there, why it is marked, in every nook and cranny, by reasonability. As I have argued elsewhere, this mystical theology of creation through the Word is one of the conditions for the possibility of the physical sciences, for every scientist must assume the intelligibility of what she investigates.