John writes a very different type of account from the other three gospel-writers.
Some suggest that he is like a Jazz-musician ‘riffing’ on the themes from the gospels, picking up a few key themes and developing them. It is rather nice to think that there is a jazz section in our symphony!
Others suggest John writes almost like a lawyer, making a case for Jesus as the Messiah: ‘These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ) and through believing have life in his name.’ (Jn 20:31)
Did the first readers of this gospel already know the other gospels – It is peculiar that John does not include any parables; and John calls Jesus’ miracles “signs” and he selects only a few, most of which are not in the other gospels.
The birth of Jesus is captured in the memorable phrase – ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ and John goes on ‘we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth’ – John here saying that the person of Jesus – the human being – is so full of grace and truth that he shines out with the glory of God. What a claim to make!
John is not interested in Jesus the baby being born, he wants us to reflect on the theology. The one who was there initiating Creation, whose word called the stars and the earth into being, became human, lived among us.
For us, living in our modern, or is it post-modern Western world, a world which is now multi-cultural and where there are many faiths as well as many who claim no religious allegiance, there is a challenge; how do we speak of God? Is it enough to tell the stories of Jesus (even if they are infused with Old Testament images and references) or do we have to try and find words and phrases which will connect today.
John calls Jesus the “Logos”, the Word, and this is a clever amalgamation of the Greek idea of meaning and reason and the Jewish reference to the power of God’s speaking which formed Creation.
Many would be intrigued by the Logos – but then shocked by the claim that this Logos was to be found in the person of Jesus and no one else.
There is a potential arrogance to this claim. Of course there is – even in the Gospels Jesus is challenged for the claims he makes. Although John writes a gospel which should intrigue and connect with people of other faith traditions, he is clear that Jesus, and Jesus alone is the truth, the life, the Logos, the way.
For some this sits uncomfortably – it seems to disparage other religions and beliefs. It is probably better to see that it is not disparaging them, but it is claiming a difference.
Christmas is a Christian festival, even if it is also a mid-winter festival as well for us. And the clue is in the name – Christmas, Christian. Christ – the anointed one of God, the awaited one for the Jews, though many did not see Jesus as the One.
Other faiths celebrate Jesus as a prophet or a teacher, or as one among many spiritual leaders and examples. The Christmas message is that in this one person, and one place, the Word became flesh.
And John writes so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and in believing have life in his name.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus changes the water of purification into the finest wine at a wedding banquet – a complex image which points to God’s Kingdom. He calls Lazarus out of the tomb, and claims to be the Resurrection and the Life.
The way John tells it, Jesus remains very much in control, despite being arrested and condemned. Somehow this is all in God’s plan and purpose, little though Pilate and the High Priests know it.
We go back to Abraham, called by God to be a blessing to others, not just to receive blessing, to the chosen people who were to be the example that would draw others to God, not by force, but by living. Jesus is the fulfilment of this tradition – the example of God’s love that should draw others to God.
We who have discovered this truth are called to share it, to tell it to others, but as Jesus did, through care, through love, through holy living, through words of invitation and – when needed – challenging the injustices and wrongs of this world.
Four complementary gospels in harmony with each other but different in emphasis, contributing to the symphony -giving a richer understanding as we hear them all. Pointing to Jesus the Christ.