The Logos Become Flesh
by Tim Mooney
Yes, yes, it’s the Holiday Season – Hanukkah, Christmas, Solstice, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, Epiphany! But everybody knows what the Holidays are really about. Football! The Bowl Games, the NFL playoffs!
Last year, around this time, when masks were only for Halloween parties or Greek Theatre, a bunch of us got together at Cheesman Park to play a little friendly game of football. You know, throw the pigskin around, get some grass stains on your knees, knock someone on their keister, retell stories of our glory days, and pray you don’t break your own keister. I asked Nick to join us, and he said, “Oh, spot on, mate, that sounds lovely, smashing!” We had just about finished choosing teams when Nick walked up. He wore a Manchester United jersey, shin guards, and held a soccer ball in his hand! “I thought we were playing futball?” he said. I responded, “We are.” “That’s not real futball. Besides, the pitch is quite shaggy.” “No, no, Nick, you’ve got it wrong. Pitch is for baseball.” “I’m talking about the playing field, you American twit.”
The Greek word Logos is similar to the word football. It has different meanings. Logos is broadly defined as the Word of God, or the principle of divine reason and creative order. Commonly, Logos simply means “reason” or “word.” But the translation “thought” is probably the best equivalent of the Greek term, since it indicates both thought inwardly conceived in the mind, and thought outwardly expressed through language. But John deepens our understanding of Logos.
Listen to John 1:1-18. I will use Logos, where normally we would hear “word.”
In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the life of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own. And his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Logos became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’) From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
In the beginning was the Logos. Thought, reason, creativity happens in a moment. But we can also find ourselves saying, “What were we thinking? We’ve lost our minds. Look what our thoughts and reasons created, it’s a disaster!” Our thinking, reasoning, and creativity are spotty, limited. But when John writes, “In the beginning was the Logos,” he’s saying the Logos is eternal, and by inference, it is always present, available, here in each moment. John could have said, “The Logos was at the beginning,” but that would have meant the beginning was primary, not the Logos. It suggests that divine reason and creative order are at the very heart of God, are God.
And the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. This is such an interesting juxtaposition. With and was. Wouldn’t saying, “the Logos was God,” be sufficient to cover the idea of being with? But here we find one of those statements that suggests God is not just a monad, a stand alone, a solitary being. And, once the idea of the Trinity was developed, this statement guarded against the notion of three separate, stand alone beings, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “With and was” is an awkward way of saying the reality of God, is relationship, is love.
All things, everything, came into being through the Logos, the divine creativity manifests everything.
He was in the beginning with God. By using the word “he,” John specifically refers to Jesus, and equates Jesus with the Logos.
All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. Wow. This statement is huge. All things, everything, came into being through the Logos, the divine creativity manifests everything.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. Here, John says it’s not just that all things have come into being, but through the Logos life itself comes into being, and that life, is the light of all people.
John then takes one more step to deepen our understanding of the Logos. But I hesitate to use the word “understanding” to describe what John is after. But first let me focus on John’s final step.
And the Logos became flesh and lived among us. This idea of Logos – “reason” and “word” – becomes flesh, becomes a life, manifested not just in thought inwardly conceived in the mind, and thought outwardly expressed in language, but in flesh and blood. It becomes real, it is experienced, it is lived.
This final step is the one we need to take, too. It is easy to focus on the idea of Logos being reason and thought inwardly conceived in the mind, and outwardly expressed through language, but it can’t stop there. And it’s reflected in verse 12. John says, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become the children of God, who were born not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.” We, born of God, are meant to manifest Logos in our lives; not just to understand it, to think it and express it in language, but to live it.
Western culture has been deeply defined by Greek dualism, profoundly illustrated by the vast distance between spirit and matter. Spirit us unchangeable, eternal, therefore Godlike; matter is always changing, temporal, therefore not God-like at all. John was shaped by Greek dualism; but he is pushing his language, his culture, to the limit. He is saying the unsayable, He is saying what Greek dualism will not allow him to say. John takes Spirit and Matter and makes them one. He is stretching language to the limits, not just so we understand Logos in our minds, but so we live Logos, we become Logos. As Ireneaus of Lyons, and Athanasius of Alexandria, two very important fathers of the early church, said, “He became what we are so that we might become what He is.”
John Philip Newell writes, “(The Logos becoming flesh) is not an exclusive truth, it is the most inclusive truth. It does not limit the sacredness to one man at one moment in time. It reveals the essential sacredness of every person and everything that has been created.” (p. 8, The Rebirthing of God)
Just like futbol and football, you can talk all you want about team strengths, individual match-ups, coaching strategies, ad infinitum. But in order to know football, you have to make it real, you must play the game. And on the field anything can happen. This is what John is after. Faith is not just internally thought in our minds, or externally expressed in our language. The Logos is played in our lives. It becomes real, it becomes us.
Nick thought about going home, but we convinced him to stay, with an important caveat. We would try soccer, futball, and he would try football. Most of us were lousy at futball (soccer). But by actually playing the game, I realized why soccer was such a beloved sport. And I knew, without a shadow of doubt, why you wore shin guards! And Nick discovered that he relished tackling someone, he didn’t have to put up with fake crybaby injuries, and he could use his hands to catch the football!
If we didn’t actually play, we wouldn’t have known.
And the Logos became flesh. God, the Logos, divine reason and creativity, in you and me, made real, living. Amen.