Those of us who frequently participated in the Eucharist before the 1960s can probably recite much of today’s gospel pericope by heart. It once was the “last gospel” of every Eucharist. But since the number of those who participated in Eucharists before the 1960s is rapidly diminishing, the vast majority of today’s Catholics only hear this famous passage if they come to the Eucharist During the Day on Christmas.
Students of Scripture refer to this pericope as “John’s prologue:” the intro to his entire gospel. The evangelist must have heard the mantra of my college homiletics professor: “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell them! Tell ‘em! Then tell ‘em what you told ‘em!” Today John tells his readers what he’s going to spend the next 20 chapters telling them. Many of his gospel’s major themes are contained in these 18 verses.
Alone among our four evangelists, John teaches that Jesus pre-existed as God long before he existed as a human being. Semites believe our words reveal who we are. So when John refers to Jesus being God’s word from “the beginning,” he’s assuring us that no one can, or has revealed God’s personality better than Jesus. This means real Christians never begin their understanding of God with a dictionary or catechism definition. We begin and end our quest with an experience of the risen Jesus among us. To experience Jesus is to experience God.
Not only did we old-timers stand reverently and listen (in Latin) to this last gospel, we were expected to genuflect along with the priest when he proclaimed the verse, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” (Some scholars translate the last phrase, “He pitched his tent among us.”) God’s word completely became one with us.
Along with zeroing in on the terrific things John says about Jesus, we must also hear the terrific things he says about us who follow Jesus. “Any who did accept him he empowered to become children of God. ... Of his fullness we have all had a share - love following upon love.” All who imitate Jesus become one with Jesus. We now relate to his Father as he does, and we share in the same love he came to share with others.
The author of Hebrews couldn’t agree more. He refers to Jesus as “the reflection of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of the Father’s being. . . .“ But he also makes Jesus’ arrival the centerpiece of “salvation history.” “In times past, God spoke in fragmentary and varied ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in this, the final age, he has spoken to us through his Son, whom he has made heir of all things and through whom he first created the universe.”
Though Deutero-Isaiah is thinking about the Israelites’ return from exile when he proclaims the words of today’s first reading, all people of faith, at any point in salvation history, can identify with his sentiments. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the one who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation... .“
Perhaps we can best get into the spirit of our three readings by thanking God for the good news being proclaimed in our midst; not just the good news of Jesus’ birth, but also the good news of the risen Jesus continuing to reveal God’s self. Since Jesus makes us God’s children, can we presume God’s also revealing God’s self through us? If that’s true, we have a responsibility as children to listen to that revelation.