Cosmic Nativity, by Rev. Fred Kinsey
John’s “Prologue”, the opening of his gospel, is considered to be some of the best and most beautiful poetry of the New Testament. Though theologically complex, which has resulted in multiple interpretations, its sheer magnificence is beloved by all believers.
John’s gospel was written decades later, than the other synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. And John diverts the reader into brand new territory in describing the birth of Jesus. His parents Mary and Joseph are not to be found in his script, and neither is the manger or the innkeeper, the shepherds or the Magi.
John’s Nativity scene is cosmic in scope, a Savior whose finger print goes all the way back to the origins of the universe: “in the beginning was the Word,” John declares. Mirroring the creation story in Genesis, chapter 1, verse 1, John begins at the moment when all things were made, to describe how the divine nature of Jesus was with God, and indeed, was God – the life and light of all, was there, and was a partner in creating everything that came into being. Jesus, the Word, was a co-creator with God in making life, indeed was the same as God – and was, and is, the life that is the light of all people, and the light that the darkness cannot overshadow.
But then, without warning, a new character arrives, in the present. The poem is abruptly interrupted by John, who isn’t even identified as the Baptist, though it’s clear that that is who he is, one sent by God for a specific purpose. For the primary role of John the Baptist in this gospel of John, is not his ministry of baptism by the River Jordan, which is only later mentioned in passing, or his baptizing Jesus, which is not mentioned at all, but his primary role is to testify, as a witness, that Jesus is the life and the Light coming into the world.
That said, this poem about Jesus, the Word coming into the world, continues merrily on, after John has so rudely interrupted, with the good news that all who believe in Jesus have been given power to become children of God. And, the final crowning beauty of the Prologue is the announcement of his incarnation, that the Word became flesh and lives among us, God’s glory, full of grace and truth. All of which, of course, is what John has come to witness to and testify about.
The abrupt, out of sync interruption about John in the middle of this poem, has raised the very serious question that it was, perhaps, a later addition to John’s gospel, by another, unknown hand. Many scholars see it as, out of place and not fitting here, and so, doubt that it was written by John at all.
And yet, another interpretation is possible. One I think that fits a larger truth of John’s gospel, and our calling as disciples’ of Christ, even today. Which is that this grand Prologue, introducing Jesus as the Word of God, a cosmic Christ and co-creator with God, cannot break into our world, without an earthly witness, one who can play host to this event of the Word becoming flesh, and testify to the world, that Jesus came to enlighten and save. Doesn’t everyone need a witness, another person, to verify and validate their own reality, our alive-ness, that we are somebody! No one is an island, as the saying goes – we need the other. John, is Jesus’ witness.
There was a woman who lived in Corpus Christi, Texas, a faithful church-goer who was known for her unique response to her pastor’s preaching. Whenever she heard a truth that moved her, she called out, in what became known as her mantra, “So true Lord, I'm one of your witnesses.” She was beloved, in whatever church around Corpus Christi she attended, and people came to recognize her by that signature, So true Lord, I'm one of your witnesses. In the academy, the professors who have studied the African-American worship experience call this, “participatory proclamation.” But in the church, we’d just say, she’s witnessing!
At her home congregation one Sunday, when a state representative running for re-election attended worship, the candidate asked the pastor if it would be possible to say a word about their campaign. To which the pastor politely declined. Not in my pulpit, he said. And out of the pews, guess who stood up and declared with a loud voice, So true Lord, I'm one of your witnesses.
All of us are called, in some fashion, to bear witness, to the most important truth alive, that has come into our world, like the woman from Corpus Christi, and like John the Baptist himself. We testify in word, and witness in deed, that Jesus the Christ is the true light who has come into the world and enlightens everyone.
In fact, the purpose of John’s gospel, as a whole, could be said to teach us, to be Jesus’ witnesses, that all might believe, through “us,” as John’s Prologue says. To believe through John was to receive his witness as true. And throughout the Gospel, to believe truly in Jesus is not simply to agree to information about him. It entails a person’s total and wholehearted, allegiance and trust, in Jesus. What’s your mantra? How can we testify, whether in words or deeds? Yes, I know him. He is the one sent from God, and he can indeed transform your life.
Instead of seeing John the Baptist as an intrusion into the Prologue poetry, couldn’t we see it is a faithful, and true surprise – a surprise like a savior who is born in a lowly barn, because there was no room in the inn?! John’s Nativity story is an organic interruption, if you will. The Word, the Son of God, who was with God from the beginning, is born into time and space – into our world as the light of all people, who is life. And the prophetic voice of John, gives witness to this milestone.
“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.”
If we close the book here and put it back on the shelf, pleased and satisfied at its beauty and wonder, we have missed the point of it. The poetry is interrupted intentionally, by the witness of one sent by God, to insure the story is not shelved or forgotten, without everyone possible, knowing the good news. The Prologue story is a living testimony to life itself, the origin of all life, and the meaning of our life. Our life is a poetic birth, conceived by the parent of us all, the motherly Father, the savior Child, and the Holy Spirit, the three in one. We are full of grace and truth. We are little-miracles of life. We have seen this glory, and we celebrate it, this holy day, as witnesses, testifying to the truth and the life – the light that has come into the world and shines in our darkness, which cannot overcome it!
The beauty and majesty of our cosmic Christ needs a witness. John the Baptist was just the first, to testify. Now there are millions of us, a host of believers whose lives have been transformed by the life and the light, and we pass it on, one candle at a time, to our neighbors and friends and family. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”