In many ways, I think that this section of Scripture is one of the most precious pieces of literature that I have encountered. Every single time that I am brought back to this passage I experience it as fresh and renewing. I often think that John could have stopped writing at verse 18 – such is the power and significance of what he says here in these few short verses. As N. T. Wright says, “these opening verses are, in fact, such an introduction to the book that by the time you get to the story you know a good deal about what’s coming and what it means.”
“In the beginning…” The three words which John uses to open his biography on Jesus are the same three words that are found at the very opening of the Old Testament in the creation narrative of Genesis. Is this a coincidence? Probably not. Scholars and teachers suggest that by using these words, John is framing his gospel in the whole story of God as it is known to the people that he is writing for, and his purpose in doing this is to say that the one he is about to write of, the Word (Jesus), is the one who will be the crowning glory of the God’s story that Genesis began. John is essentially saying to his readers that the story which they and their people have been recounting for centuries; God’s story, which started at the very beginning of creation, is reaching its climax in the person of Jesus, whose life-story John is about to tell.
In this prologue John goes on to describe the life within Jesus as the light of all humankind, and then he says that this light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. What a spectacular, lasting image of the Christ this is! To consider Christ as an inextinguishable light is nothing short of powerful in the mind of a human. In a world in which the darkness of loss, suffering, separation, war, power games, bigotry, hatred, and division seems overbearing, the image of christ as a belligerent, persistent light shining right in the center of darkness is an image which bears complete hope. No matter how over-powering the darkness may seem, it never has and never will overpower light.
The Word, who has been there since the beginning, is now becoming flesh and is making his home place among the people, giving ALL those who will receive him the actual right to become children of God. For so long this has been perceived as an earned right for the people that John is writing for. A right which was earned by living the good life of lawful observance. But now, John says, this right is a right that is open for all who will receive the light which has come into the world. This right to become children of God is a right which has now been opened to all people: people just like you and me.
I find that to be staggeringly good news. Don’t you?
As a prologue to what is coming in this gospel, John has set an amazing scene. In the remainder of the book John expands on these opening thoughts in ways which make readers like you and me marvel – if we take the time to stop at each turn and dare to allow ourselves to be marveled.
I’m game for some marvel. Are you?