Sir 24:1-2, 8-12; Ps 147:12-15,19-20 (Resp. Jn 1:14) Eph 1: 3-6, 15-18; Jn 1: 1-18.
At the beginning of this New Year, it is fitting that we have as gospel reading this Sunday the start of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word…”. John echoes the first words of Genesis: “In the beginning when God created… then God said, ‘Let there be light…”. The same presence of God’s Word (Logos) which was active in bringing creation into being, is now to be found in the person of Jesus. As John goes on to say that the Word was “with God in the beginning,” and that “through him all things came to be,” he also wants to recall the action of Lady Wisdom (Sophia), who in many passages of the Bible (e.g. Proverbs 8; Wisdom 7:22-30; Sirach 24), is portrayed as beside God in the act of creating the world. John, then, uses both masculine (Logos) and feminine (Sophia) images from the Hebrew Scriptures to try to explain the wonder of what has happened in the coming of Jesus.
Later in the gospel passage, he will speak of Jesus as the exegete of the Father, the one who, while always dwelling “in the bosom of the Father,” reveals the human face of God to us (Jn 1:18). The second reading, from Ephesians, spells out what this means for us: the realisation that we become, in Jesus, God’s adopted children. We can recall the words of Meister Eckhart: “Today we commemorate a 3-fold birth. The first is that in which the heavenly Father begets his only Son within the divine essence. The second is that of maternal fruitfulness. The third is effected when God is born within a just person every hour, by grace and out of love.”
It is no accident that the first reading given today is one of those beautiful passages from the Bible about Lady Wisdom (Sophia). The text from Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) was chosen because of the image of Wisdom “pitching her tent” with the people of Israel; the image goes back to the nomadic existence of the early Israelites. It can call us to be concerned for those many refugees who live in tented villages today. John’s Gospel takes up the phrase and has the Word “pitching his tent” among us (the usual translation of “he lived among us” misses the allusion).
Just before that phrase is the statement: “the Word was made flesh.” The Word who was with God from the beginning, and always dwells in the bosom of the Father, becomes flesh (sarx). It does not say “the Word became man,” or even “a human being” but sarx, a word which implies a deep relationship with the material world around us. Elizabeth Johnson points out that it signifies the, “radical divine reach through human flesh all the way down into the very tissue of biological existence with its growth and decay, joined with the wider processes of evolving nature that begets and sustains life… The flesh assumed in Jesus Christ connects with all humanity, all biological life, all soil, the whole matrix of the material universe down to its very roots” (E. Johnson, Ask the Beasts, 2014). That insertion of Jesus into the real world is portrayed in Ted Hughes’s The Coming of the Kings in a more homely way:
He will be born to the coughing of animals
Among the broken neglected objects
In the corner that costs not a penny
In the darkness of the mouse and the spider.
Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si’ spells out our place within the earth community: “The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival which is God” (LS’ 83). Day by day in this coming year we are called to hear the Word of God through Wisdom in the events of our ordinary lives. It is there that we will experience the cry of the world around us, whether of the earth itself, or of those suffering within it.
Sr. Céline Mangan, O.P.