If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
17 December. John chapters 1-2
John, as is well known, orders the material in his Gospel differently from Mark, Matthew or Luke – he is not telling the story of Jesus necessarily in the order things happened, and pays no attention at all to the birth or parentage of Jesus. Instead he selects those scenes that he thinks most important and orders them in a symbolic way. The first two chapters are like an overture or the brief scenes at the start of a movie before the credits, that give an idea of the plot that is to follow.
This evening, churches across England including my own will have a service of “lessons and carols” – Bible readings and hymns or other music selected to tell the story of Jesus, focusing on his birth. By tradition the last reading is the beginning of this Gospel, with its mysterious description of Jesus as “the Word” who existed in the beginning, even before the creation of the world, but became flesh as a man. Over the next two weeks, our readings in church will include other passages from these chapters – this morning, the third Sunday in Advent, the theme was John the Baptiser; and the story of the wedding at Cana where Jesus turned water into fine wine is read at Epiphany, usually the first Sunday of the new year.
All these are understood to be among the “signs” that John is presenting: events that point towards who Jesus really is, rather than stating it directly. The nativity itself is the first and greatest of these signs. The angels and the mysterious star that Luke and Matthew tell us about, respectively, were also signs that led shepherds and magi to Bethlehem to see this greater sign – that God had appeared as an ordinary human being.
John’s ministry of baptism was, as he told anyone who would listen, also only a sign of something greater – baptism in water signifying repentance was only about preparing oneself to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus would offer (but only at Pentecost, after his resurrection). And the miracle at Cana was not so much about just keeping a party going, as an example of the abundance of life that Jesus came to bring. The one who could draw water from a well and turn it into wine would, as we will see tomorrow, also draw water from another well and turn it into a means of forgiveness, reconciliation and healing.
As John tells us, “many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing” (2:21). Are there enough signs here for you to believe?