The only phrase I remember from my one semester of Hebrew is the first few words of Genesis, בראשית ברא אלהים which translated means “In the beginning God created.” I am not sure if Fr. George Saladna would be proud that, after 40 years, I still recall those words, but my minimal vocabulary is due more to aging gray cells than his ability to teach. Fr. Saladna was the vice rector of the seminary during my brief two year stay. He had been given the nickname “Gorg” long before my arrival, when, in the pre-spellchecker or autocorrect days, a piece of mail was delivered to Fr. Gorg Saladna. It takes a special person to make a course in Classical Hebrew enjoyable. Gorg was that type of person and priest.
Every story has a beginning and the four Gospels are no exception. The evangelist Mark’s account opens with the unique figure of John the Baptist. The Baptist’s significance is attested to by his presence in all four Gospels. However, for Matthew and Luke, the adult John only arrives on the scene in chapter three. The first two chapters of Luke’s gospel begin by interweaving the birth announcements and infancy narratives of John and Jesus. Matthew’s first two chapters include the genealogy of Jesus followed by the familiar story, although differing from Luke’s version, of the birth of Jesus.
For the gospel writer, John, it is not back far enough to to unfold the Good News with John the Baptist preparing the way for the Messiah. It is not enough to start with the birth of Jesus or even tracing his lineage to David then to Abraham. Rather, John opens with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John’s words purposefully link the opening of Genesis with God’s plan of salvation through the Incarnation.
On this Christmas Eve day, reflecting on the first several pages of Martin and Wright’s book, The Gospel of John, was very appropriate and meaningful. God dwelling with his people was not something unfamiliar to the people of the Old Testament. God could be found in the wilderness temple as told in Exodus and in the Temple in Jerusalem, but with the Incarnation, God dwells with his people in a “previously unimaginable way.” The authors point out that John views salvation history in light of two gifts. The the gift of the Torah, the law, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, which begins the love story of God pursuing his people and revealing himself to them. The second and even greater gift is that of “grace and truth” found in Jesus Christ, the fullness of divine revelation.
The secular world has commercialized Christmas to be about gifts. In our own human way, we try to express our love for family and friends, just as God, through his gifts, expresses his love for each of us. With their exploration of the Gospel of John, Martin and Wright include sections entitled, Reflection and Application. For these opening verses of the Gospel, John 1: 1-18, the authors challenge the reader to strengthen their faith experience of the Incarnation through four simple steps: prayer, silence, openness and action. Taking time every day to pray and read the Bible is the foundation of our relationship with God and moves us to the second step of quiet. Martin and Wright say that we need to make time for silence during the busyness of our lives. Over consumption of mass media, they posit, can “confuse the mind and paralyze the will.” The third step is openness to God’s will. God’s desire for us is our holiness. The final step is to “live a life that takes the incarnation seriously.” For Martin and Wright, this is achieved by participating in the sacramental life of the church and caring for the needs of others.
As we approach the celebration of Christmas, this unimaginable gift of God, let us find a few moments of quiet to pause and pray, to strengthen our cooperation with God’s will by growing in holiness and to reaffirm our life of active discipleship.
Title: The Gospel of John
Author: Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV
Publisher: Baker Academic
Release Date: May 5, 2015