Listening to the Nativity collection of readings for the Vespers of Christmas Eve (there were eight of them), my mind drifted to the “jumbled mess” that is the Old Testament. We speak of it as if it were a single thing, when, it is many things (over 40), and some of those things are jumbled concatenations of other jumbled things. I can only imagine what someone coming to the Old Testament for the first time with no preparation or guidance thinks. How do they not drop the book and run away? And this is only thinking about its jumbled, bric-a-brac quality. If you add to that some of the stories that seem frightening or outlandish, or the obscurity of some of the prophets, then it’s little wonder that many have simply never read it.
But that same “jumbled mess” is itself a good way to describe our lives. We fight a constant battle with chaos, struggling to give meaning and purpose to events as they unfold. Randomness seems completely unacceptable.
St. John describes Christ as the Logos, or Word of God:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (Joh 1:3)
“Word” is certainly one way to translate Logos – but only one of many – for we have no equivalent word in English. Logos is the inner meaning, the reason and order of something. And it is also word. We derive our word “logic” from it. But logos it is not logic.
A phrase that works very well for me (and a phrase is probably required rather than a single word) is: “the sense of a thing.” And The Logos is “that which makes sense make sense.” That anything “makes sense” would, in the language of St. John, have a “logicity” about it.
And it is this Sense of things to which John bears witness in his gospel.
In the beginning was the Sense. That Sense was with God, and it was God Himself. Everything was made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
And, we might add, because all things were made through The Sense – they make sense. More than this, we can say that because The Sense is the reason why all things make sense – the sense they make bears the imprint of The Sense.
This is at the heart of St. John’s theological gospel. For the claim is more than that God has become man, but reveals as well the character of the God who has become man. This God is the Only-Begotten Son of the Father, and is also revealed as the Logos of God (The Sense of all things).
St. Paul knows this same gospel of the pre-existent Christ:
For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. (Col 1:16)
St. Paul saying that all things are made through Christ and for Christ is quite the same as St. John identifying Christ as the Logos.
And these statements are deeply significant. Historical critics of the Scriptures have a very difficult time accounting for the “high Christology” of the New Testament. They entertain a theory that Christ was just a man and a teacher, who was gradually overblown into a god. But such a theory requires something the New Testament does not offer: time. An evolution of thought from a low Christology (Christ as the anointed Messiah) to a high Christology (Christ as the pre-existent only-begotten Son of the Father) could perhaps take place over a hundred years or more. But the high Christology of St. Paul is undeniably evident within 20 years of the resurrection. And what we see in these treatments of the pre-existent Christ (John and Paul) has a sophistication that cannot be accounted for by any imaginable, short-term process. It is simply too rich and complex, too developed, too soon, and too widespread. The traditional account, that this high Christology is nothing other than the primitive tradition of the Church, is the only account that makes sense. So much for the musings of Bart Ehrman and the latest cadre of sophisticates.
The understanding of Christ within the pages of the New Testament is already cosmic in its dimensions. The primitive gospel proclaims a Christ who is pre-existent. And He is no mere angel. He is identified with the very act of creation itself. The language of Trinity was years from its expression, but its reality is already there – in its fullness.
But the New Testament does represent a leap in the revelation of God. For this God made known in Jesus Christ, is not merely the Creator of all things, but all things have a unique relationship with Him. He is their Logos – their Sense, their Reason, their Purpose, their Beginning and their End. The revelation of Jesus Christ is the revelation of the God whose Life and Will is written into the very core of all things.
In this, the story of Jesus is revealed as the story of all things. And the Christian journey, though “personal,” must also be seen as cosmic. For Christ is not only the One who reveals the Father, He is also the Sense of all things. Thus, He is already in me and in everything, at the very least in the way of patterning. In coming to know God through Christ, I am also coming to know my true self and the truth of all things.
The “mystical” instinct of the Church is already present within the pages of the New Testament. It is not a later Hellenistic or Platonist import to some primitive, Semitic, rabbinical devotion.
St. John offers a very homey description of the Logos-become-flesh:
He came to His own [εἰς τὰ ἴδια those things that were uniquely His own], and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (Joh 1:11-13)
Christ is the Sense of my life and of everything around me. By God’s grace, our Sense has come to us that we might come to our senses – unjumbling the jumbled mess.