Gospel readings for the Christmas season include not just the Nativity accounts of Matthew and Luke — the familiar and indeed beloved synoptic accounts of the events of and surrounding Jesus’s birth — but also the Gospel According to John, which is less of a narrative, and more of a philosophical, theological, discourse on the fact and nature of the Incarnation of the Deity.
This is exquisitely set out for us than in the prologue, John 1:1-18, which for half a millennium was recited by priests at the conclusion of services of Holy Communion every Sunday and was therefore referred to as the “Last Gospel.”
For me, it is of paramount importance that John’s Prologue starts with the same focus and phraseology that we find at the outset in the Book of Genesis. In both, what matters first and explicitly is the primordial existence of the Divinity — referred to as the Logos, the “Word.” It suggests at the outset a rational principle or intention, or for that matter, Divine reason or will. Likewise, this primordial Divinity is referred to in Biblical Hebrew using “Elohim” (Genesis 1:1), which incorporates the plural “-im” ending, which in turn and in context introduces the notion of all-encompassing plurality, thereby connoting “majesty” of all Creation.
In comparison, the other, most holy, name for the Almighty — namely, the Sacred Tetragrammaton was not given to Moses and the Hebrew nation until many generations later, in Moses’s first encounters with the Divinity of the Burning Bush on Mount Sinai, as described in the Book of Exodus.
The Last Gospel is thought to have been written around 100 CE, somewhat after Matthew, Mark and Luke and likewise after the Apostle Paul’s letters like that to the Galatians.
This means it came after decades of reflection on the foregoing by John, so it gives us a clearer understanding of the “what, why, and wherefore” of the Incarnation:
• Jesus and the preordinate Creator God are one and the same.
• As such, and as prophesied (by the likes of Isaiah of old, as well as John the Baptizer), Jesus is the Divine “Light of the World” — the “light that, no matter how faint, nevertheless overcomes spiritual or faithless darkness
• Those of us who believe in this Jesus, in the truth of his authority and his commands, can become like unto children of God and experience Divine “grace upon grace.”
— The Rev. Dr. Wesley S. Williams Jr., J.D., LL.D., D. Min., K.St.J, is Washington National Cathedral Priest Scholar and Chaplain, and he previously served churches in the Episcopal Diocese of the Virgin Islands.