“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not understood it.”
These are the opening words of John’s gospel. John wrote about the life of Jesus in a different way than the other three gospels. He described Jesus as existing at the beginning of creation. Referring here to Jesus as the Word John ties his gospel together with the first words of the Hebrew scriptures. The book of Genesis opens like this,
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.”
It is a beautiful literary device that John uses in the prologue to his gospel. It immediately transports us to the passage from Genesis by opening with the exact same words. As soon as we read “in the beginning” we know what is going on – we know what John is about to tell us. The Son of God was also there in the beginning when God spoke the heavens and the earth into existence. In fact, Christ is called the Word by John. John is obviously inviting us to look and see where in the Genesis story there is a sacred word which we might associate with Christ. God created all things by speaking them. And so Christ, the Word of God, proceeds from the Father, the one source of all that is and is not, in the same way words proceed from our hearts and into the world.
The gospel of John was a particular favourite of the early Celtic Christians. The incarnation of the eternal Word of God into the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth was seen as an important moment in history. The story of Easter plays an important role in Celtic Christianity, no doubt, but in many ways it is the Christmas story which most captivated the early Celtic church.
Eriugena taught that the Word made flesh is continually being spoken by God in two ways: through the Bible and through creatures. When Eriugena talks about creatures he means anything which has been created, not just little furry critters. Eriugena taught that we come from God and will one day return to God, as it is with all creatures. The spiritual journey is a return home to our divine origins as the image of God. In a certain way, our inner eyes have been darkened by vices and spiritual illness and as a result we require medicine which will heal our spiritual blindness. We do this by reconnecting to the Word which is ever being spoken by God and which is the light and life of the world. Eriugena said in his homily, The Voice of the Eagle,
“The eternal light manifests itself to the world in two ways, through the bible and creatures. For the divine knowledge cannot be restored in us except by the letters of scripture and the sight of creatures. Learn the words of scripture and understand their meaning in your soul; there you will discover the Word. Know the forms and beauty of sensible things by your physical senses, and see there the Word of God.”
During the season of Advent we eagerly await the incarnation. We sit in the darkness longing for the light. We read the Word of God in the Bible and we see the Word of God in creation. These things well up inside us a longing for the Word of God in our heart. The union of Heaven and Earth is the incarnation which we long for. It has already happened at the moment of the big bang, it has happened in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, it has happened in the inspired writings of those who came before us, and in all theses things the Word never stops being spoken. We need only to have ears which can hear it.
When we silence our own words we can begin to hear the song of creation being sung, or spoken, all around us. It never ceases because if it did reality would cease along with it. The Word of God sustains creation so that this magnificent work of art in which we live can shine as a light in the darkness even though we who are in darkness cannot fully understand it. This light is the life of all humanity and it is also the light of all creation. It is for this light that we wait and it is the coming of this light that all prophecies the world over look forward to.
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