The Logos of life
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made……14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-3,14)
This is the Bible passage that provides us with the climactic reading in our annual festival of lessons & carols. It is a passage in which, to borrow a phrase from an early fifth century bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, a child could paddle and an elephant swim. There are depths to the text which a lifetime of study is not sufficient to explore, and yet there are basic truths on the surface concerning our Lord Jesus Christ which even a child can grasp.
In that passage, John makes use of a very particular Greek word in describing the incarnation of Christ. It is the word that is translated for us as ‘Word’. It is, in Greek, Logos. It was a word that was very familiar to John’s contemporaries - the Greek-speaking, and Greek-educated world of 2,000 years ago. They believed, very firmly, that the universe had a rational and a moral order to it. There was structure and rationality inherent in the universe. It was this order that they called ‘Logos’.
For ancient Greeks, the meaning of life was found in contemplating and discerning this order, this Logos, which was so manifest in the world. Indeed, they defined the good life as a life that conformed to that order, a life guided by the Logos of the universe.
Therefore, the apostle John was making an astonishing statement at the beginning of his Gospel. He is using that important and central idea of the Logos and applies it to Jesus. Jesus is the Logos. John was making the claim that life does indeed have a purpose to it and that there is structure and meaning to the universe. In this he was agreeing with many of his contemporaries. He was affirming that our human lives are not without purpose. We were made for something and only in recognising that something will we live well and enjoy the human freedom for which we were designed. The radical claim that John makes in these well-known verses is that this order, in which we find life’s meaning, and contemplation of which constitutes the good life, is not a logical principle but a living person. We discover the very core meaning in life not by mere logical reasoning, but in living relationship with a person - the Logos, who is Jesus Christ.
This is a significant claim. There are many people today for whom life is nothing more than a meaningless fluke. The world view of many who stroll across our TV screens is what we might call ‘accidentalism’. It is the belief that everything is an accident or is due to pure ‘chance’. This is the view that is usually taken for granted and there is a curious assumption (wholly wrong) that somehow this has been ‘proved by science’. Accidentalism tends to lead to a sense of futility and meaninglessness. If everything is a result of pure chance, so that my life is nothing more than a random fluke, then what possible meaning or significance can that life have?
Some of our contemporaries seem tragically haunted by a sense of the utter insignificance of life. The Australian journalist Germain Greer, who describes herself as a ‘Catholic atheist’, was asked how she would like to be remembered after she died, she replied ‘Compost. I’d want people to say ‘she made good compost.’
As John Blanchard puts it, for many people life can be summed up like this: ‘we begin as a fluke, we live as farce and we end as fertiliser.’
Over against that bleak assessment, we can read John’s Gospel and find that there is order and there is meaning to life. Of course, it is worth emphasising that John does far more than affirm Greek belief in the Logos. He makes clear that the meaning of life is not a logical principle but a living person, an individual human being who came to this earth 2,000 years ago, and whose birth we celebrate at Christmas.
The point is that this familiar passage found at the beginning of John’s Gospel is answering questions that many in our community wrestle with - what is the point of life? Does life have any meaning? What life should I live that will be worthwhile? The answer is not found in cold, intellectual pursuit (rewarding and worthwhile as that is). It is found in a Person with whom we can encounter in relationship. It is found in the One who, whilst being the very Logos of the universe, was born as a helpless babe in a some dank cave in the nowhere place of Bethlehem. The Logos of the universe is the babe of Bethlehem, the man of Galilee, the crucified, risen and ascended Saviour. Come to know Him and you truly find life in all its fullness.
holy child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell:
O come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel.
Wishing you a very blessed Christmas