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Reform Magazine | August 23, 2017

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Chapter & verse: John 1: 14

Chapter & verse: John 1: 14

susan_durberWe’ve got too used to the Gospel. “The Word became flesh” sounds like an ordinary kind of phrase to our ears – nouns and a verb; a beginning and an end; a description of something that happened. We find it hard to hear how, with one phrase, with just those words, our entire world, everything we thought we knew, is changed, transformed and made different in a way we hardly know how to talk about. But it is.

That reading from John’s Gospel – the one that gets left to the end of the carol service as the most abstract and hard to engage with – that reading cracks open the world. It may not be easily transferrable to a role in the Nativity play, and you can’t really paint it on a Christmas card, but it’s explosive. You can hide that explosiveness by reading it in a monotone, but explosive it surely is.

We human beings love dividing the world up into pairs: Male/female, rich/poor, slave/free, public/private, oppressor/oppressed, gay/straight, Jew/Gentile, home /abroad… I’m sure you can think of others. And, of course, there’s human/divine. These pairs help us keep things in some kind of order, and often in the kind of order that means someone is on the losing side (here’s another one: winners/losers). We are so used to this way of seeing the world we find it hard to see it any other way. The animals went into the ark two by two, and we do just about everything in pairs, or binary opposites, or dualisms, depending on how technical you want to be. John’s Gospel is grounded in this same business: Light/darkness, life/death, flesh/spirit. But right from the beginning, the Gospel demolishes this way of looking at the world by telling us that the Word became flesh.

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This is an extract from the December 2013/January 2014 edition of Reform.

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