Unlike the other three historical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), the Gospel of John is a blend of theology and poetry. For example: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God." This one verse has inspired theologians to write books, musicians to compose music and poets to write poetry. The Jewish concept of the "Word" of God is rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures which is associated with both God's spoken Word(s) and the actions God has taken. In the Old Testament, God's Word created all life and is the revealing, saving, and judging power of the Almighty. Within John's Gospel, the Son of God is the living presence of God through Christ Jesus. The Word, the Son, existed with God from the beginning, at the time of the creation of the world. And, the Word, Christ Jesus, has been intimately involved in the creation of all that is. This first verse of John's first chapter of Gospel describes what theologians call the pre-existence of Christ. If Jesus was with God before the creation of the world… then God has always been like Jesus. It is easy to assume that the God we read about in the Old Testament is more like a judge than our Father. But, John's Gospel describes that Jesus has revealed that love, not judgment, has always been the best description of God. It is like when a child learns how to play a song on the piano. At first it doesn’t' sound right. But, it doesn't mean that the music is bad. Jesus is the true music of God. It was not until his life, birth, and resurrection…it was not until he became our indwelling Lord that we know that God was not a judge, but a loving Father. John begins his Gospel story not with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, but John starts before the world was ever created. John retells the creation story, but this time it will have a happy ending for everyone. The connection to Genesis 1 reminds us that although we were made in God's image, something dreadful happened that we call sin, and now we are no longer in the light, but in complete darkness. In fact, says John, we actually now prefer darkness. The worst thing about all of this is that we are not capable of recognizing or accepting Christ. Because we cannot help ourselves out of our sinful dilemma, God comes from the outside to intervene through his own Son. This only Son chose to leave his closeness to the Father's heart (v.18) in order to rescue us as our Savior from sin, for inclusion into God's family (v. 12). We can now live as we were intended to live in the first place. We now reflect the image of the "Father's only Son" (v. 14); not just for our own sake, but to "lighten the path of those still in darkness" (20:31).
Today’s Gospel gives us a picture of the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. They are a normal Jewish family of the time and care about their religious practice. They go down to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with other. Joseph and Mary are worried when they do not see Jesus and look for him till they find him in the Temple. Jesus obeys them and goes back to Nazareth with them where he remains with them, is educated by them and grows to maturity before beginning his ministry. Luke is careful in his writing to show that Christianity was not anti-Jewish. Luke shows us that the parents of Jesus and Jesus himself are good Jews and do what is expected of every Jew, namely to make a yearly pilgrimage to Jerusalem to participate in the celebration of the Passover. The Passover celebrated the liberation from slavery in Egypt (Ex 12:21-28). The people recalled this past liberation and looked forward to the time when the Messiah would really free them from the slavery of sin.
As we draw close to Christmas we turn our attention to two women, Mary and Elizabeth. They will be the mothers of Jesus and of John the Baptist. Mary has heard of the news that Elizabeth is expecting to give birth soon and promptly goes to visit her. Elizabeth is capable of sharing in the joy of Mary and declares her blessed. Before todays’ Gospel reading the angel Gabriel had come to Mary in Nazareth to announce to her that she would be the mother of the Messiah (Lk 1:26-38). As a sign that God had already intervened she was referred to her cousin Elizabeth who was to give birth in three months’ time (Lk 1:5-25). When she had finally understood that it was God who was going to be the first actor in her life she responded: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.” God usually intervenes in ways that we do not suspect. Elizabeth and Zechariah were both old and nobody would have suspected that they would still have children (Lk1:7), yet they were going to be the parents of John who would prepare the way for Jesus. Mary and Joseph were a young couple who dreamt of their life together, of the children they would have and the home they wanted to build. However, God intervened in their lives before they could even get organized. This Gospel shows us how to respond to the interventions of God in our life. Mary sets out on a journey that is more than just a physical journey; it is also a spiritual journey. As Christians we can be easily content with the way things have always been, instead of the way that the Lord is leading us.
In today’s Gospel Luke continues to speak about the activity of John the Baptist as he prepares the people to receive the Messiah. He asks them to straighten up their lives through repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. John the Baptist invites the people to be baptized in water as an expression of their conversion. However, people expected that the Anointed One (the Christ of Messiah) would appear soon and began to mistake John for the Messiah. For all the Gospel writers, however, John is not the Messiah. He is his forerunner and will give way to him when he comes. Before the Messiah, John does not even consider himself worthy to undo the straps of his sandals, a job reserved for the slave of the house. The baptism of John is with water while that of Jesus will be in the Spirit. John’s baptism is the expression of a radical conversion, a turning back to God, symbolized by an external ritual of washing in water and renouncing the evil past. As serious as such a step was, it was not yet a complete inner transformation. This would be possible only through the action of the Messiah himself, through a baptism in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God himself. The Spirit will descend upon Jesus at his baptism and will lead him all along. This same Spirit will be given to the Apostles during their Pentecost experience, enabling them to be witnesses of Jesus to all the nations. It is that same Spirit that every Christian receives in baptism. In Jesus and through the subsequent Christian baptism in Jesus’ name, the inner transformation is so deep and the whole person completely won over to God that the person is really born to a new life in God’s family. Our priority then is to live our baptism as sons and daughters of God and as brothers and sisters of the same family.