239. An Unwelcome Sunrise (John 1:1-18)

“Though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich.” — St. Augustine

John 1:1-18: In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came to be, not one thing had its being but through him. All that came to be had life in him and that life was the light of men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.

A man came, sent by God. His name was John. He came as a witness, as a witness to speak for the light, so that everyone might believe through him. He was not the light, only a witness to speak for the light. The Word was the true light that enlightens all men; and, he was coming into the world. He was in the world that had its being through him, and the world did not know him. He came to his own domain and his own people did not accept him. But to all who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to all who believe in the name of him who was born not out of human stock or urge of the flesh or will of man but of God himself.

The Word was made flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that is his as the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth. John appears as his witness. He proclaims: ‘This is the one of whom I said: He who comes after me ranks before me because he existed before me.’ Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us, received – yes, grace in return for grace, since, though the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Christ the Lord  St. John wrote his Gospel towards the end of his long life. He addressed it primarily to those coming from a Hellenistic (pagan Greek) background, and only secondarily to his fellow Jews. But by calling Jesus the “Word of God made flesh,” John wields a term shocking to both categories of readers.

For the Hellenistic Greeks, “Logos,” here translated as “Word,” referred to the one unifying principle that linked together and put order in the entire cosmos. At the time when St John was writing, Greek philosophers had developed elaborate behavioral codes that they hoped could put them in touch with this unifying force. Similarly, for the Hebrew mentality, the “Word of God” connoted God’s wisdom, often personified in the Old Testament, which informs and directs all his works, including the creation and sustenance of the universe.

St. John includes both these dimensions in using the term to refer to Christ, but he corrects and elevates them by adding two additional dimensions. In showing that through the Word “all things were made,” he reveals that the Hellenistic concept of Logos had missed the mark: the unity of the cosmos, its order and beauty and glory, is not drawn from some force within itself, but from a transcendent, personal, creating God. Then, in asserting that “the Word became flesh,” he challenges his Jewish brethren to broaden their conception of the Messiah from a mere human king to God himself taking on human nature.

In the liturgical year, the Church offers us this tightly packed biography of our Savior on Christmas day, so that we can be justly amazed at beholding all of God’s infinite power and majesty wrapped in a few strips of swaddling cloth, sleeping helplessly in his mother’s arms: Jesus Christ, truly God and truly man, come gently to walk with us. Here indeed is a noble Lord, worthy of our heartfelt praise and silent adoration.

unknownitalianthenativitygoogleartproject for post on John 1:1-18Christ the Teacher The little cave at Bethlehem, where the Incarnation of God’s Word first became visible, is a torrential fountain of Christ’s doctrine. Today, however, St John draws our attention to a less romantic, more uncomfortable lesson that we often ignore. Jesus Christ came to those who had been created in his image, and they “did not know him.” He came to those who had received centuries of preparation through the Old Covenant, and they “did not accept him.”

Human history is a dramatic struggle of man’s attempts to discover meaning in life. It narrates the mostly unsuccessful but always passionate search for order, prosperity, and lasting happiness. You would think that when God himself decided to dwell among us to give us the answer and show us the way, we would welcome him eagerly and gladly. Such was not the case. The answer didn’t fit our categories, and the way led out of our comfort zone, and therefore many turned their backs on the Savior. We are all tempted to cling to the darkness and flee the light, and St. John teaches us that overcoming this temptation can be harder than we think, though it’s well worth the effort.

God will not force salvation upon us. Christ did not come to bring heaven to earth, but to lead those who would accept him from earth to heaven. Of all the world’s religions, Christianity is the most respectful of human freedom – which makes perfect sense, considering that the law of Christ’s Kingdom is authentic love, the perfect fulfillment of that particularly human characteristic.

Christ the Friend Jesus: Many people complain that I haven’t made myself clear enough, that I haven’t done enough to convince everyone to believe in and follow me. But they don’t understand the gentle force of love that binds my Kingdom together. Have you ever turned on bright lights after being in a dark room for a long time? You know how it hurts your eyes. If I had come exactly as I am, I would have blinded you. You would have submitted, but out of fear and pain. I didn’t create you for that. I created you to live in my friendship. Everything I do is to win back that friendship, which sin destroyed. So I came to meet you right where you are, right in the middle of your normal life. I came to live among you. And through my Church and my missionaries, I do the same thing in every generation all throughout the earth. My presence is bright but soft, like Christmas lights, because I know that your soul is wounded and sensitive. Trust me. Follow me. Let me guide you. I am here for that.

Christ in My Life All that exists has come from you. Help me grasp this truth, Lord. You, who call me by my name, who have gone to heaven to prepare a place for me, who suffered on the cross to redeem me from sin, who come to me humbly and quietly in the Eucharist – you are the very same One who created and sustains every molecule, every sub-atomic particle, every galaxy, every activity of this vast, beautiful, incomprehensible universe…

It is a terrible thought: you came to give us the fullness of life that every heart longs for, but not every heart is willing to accept it. Lord Jesus, I too resist the inklings of your grace too often. Help me to be strong in doing what is right and resisting temptation. Help me to follow you, to be your messenger to everyone in my life…

You are so gentle with me, Lord. You always forgive; you always nudge; you always wait with infinite patience. Thank you. Make me more like you. I want to be your light and your goodness to everyone around me. I want to attract them to you, however far away they may be, as the star of Bethlehem attracted the wise men. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart more like yours…

PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.


Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. The Nativity, unknown Italian, 1360/1380, PD-US published before January 1, 1923, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. His most recent books are “Spring Meditations”, “Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, and “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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