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The Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for the first Sunday of the New Year is John 1:1-18. As a preacher, it has been one of the more difficult passages for me. Part of the problem has always been those beginning verses, which sound overly philosophical and theological. I found it hard to preach on those verses, because they didn’t seem personal enough. It’s one thing to say “I believe in Jesus,” because those words have a personal ring to them. But when I read, “In the beginning was the Word, ” how do you have a relationship with a concept? How do you interact with an idea? The Greek word is “Logos.” “In the beginning was the Logos...”

Over the years, in studying those verses and trying to understand what John, the evangelist, was intending, things gradually began to make a bit more sense. I discovered that it was not John's goal to convey information about Jesus, or to propose ideas about Jesus to consider and agree or disagree. Instead, John’s purpose was, for us to see Jesus, to know Jesus, to connect with Jesus, and ultimately to abide and believe in Jesus.

In Greek philosophy, “the Logos” was an impersonal force. It was a lifeless and abstract philosophical concept. It was a necessary idea for the cause of order and purpose in the universe. But in Hebrew thought, the Logos was personal. “The Logos” had the power of unity, coherence and purpose, but the distinctive point is that the biblical Logos is a “He,” not an “it.”

The problem in translation is that there is no English word that captures the fullness of John's understanding of “the Logos,” when he writes “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” So when philosophers translate “the Logos” as “logic, act, or deed,” they are all inadequate definitions.

John’s “Logos” actually does include action. “The Logos” is the eternal Word in action. “The Logos” is the divine actor, acting in creation and redemption in a coherent way. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” is the conclusion of John's first few verses. The cosmic Christ has entered our humanity. The eternal connects with the temporal. The infinite connects with the finite. The unconditioned connects with the conditioned.

And all of that is very personal! That “Logos” is Jesus, whom we call “the Christ.” And that act of the Word becoming flesh is truly amazing!

Wells is a retired Evangelical Lutheran Church in America pastor. 

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