"In the beginning was the Word." When we hear the opening lines of John, they call to mind the opening lines of Scripture: "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void" (Genesis 1:1-2). Here, in the depths of time, God orders the world. We learn that a "wind from God swept over the face of the waters" (v. 2). The word wind can also be translated from the original Hebrew as "spirit" or "breath." The same is true in other languages. In isiXhosa, a South African language, uMoya is the word for spirit, wind, breath, and even airtime - such as the minutes purchased to talk on a cell phone! And so, while it is a wind from God moving over the face of the waters, it is also God's Spirit, or breath. Soon after, the breath forms words; God speaks, and from God's speech comes every detail of creation.
I love how C. S. Lewis renders this story in his description of the creation of his fantasy world, Narnia. Lewis has Aslan, the Christ figure, sing the world into being. As Aslan's pitch, tone, and volume change, different features spring into being - a high clear bell brings stars, a chirp elicits flowers, and a deeper rumble draws forth mountains. These images give a lovely picture of the breath of God igniting life. Out of the formless void, God's breath brings clarity. It gives form.
John's introductory words move us another step toward understanding. We learn that Jesus is the Word. He was issued from the breath of God and given form, even in the beginning. Jesus now takes on human form and again brings clarity. If we have not understood God through creation and Scripture, surely we will understand it through the life and words of Jesus. Jesus' life and teaching will clarify.
John not only lays out Jesus' role as the Word in the first chapter, but also introduces us to John the Baptist. He says that John the Baptist "came as a witness to testify to the light" (v. 7). John uses two words to help us understand - witness and testify. Both words are used as people tell about what they have seen, such as in a legal setting when a witness testifies about his or her experiences and observations of the events in question. John the Baptist has experienced, seen, and heard good news through the ministry of Jesus, and he will make this known to others. John the Baptist's words will be well chosen.
The reminder of James comes to mind here: "Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak" (James 1:19). Words can only do their work when they are chosen for their faithfulness. The words of Jesus come from this deep understanding. They are words of light for our murky darkness.
Can you remember times when words gave clarity to a situation? Can you remember times when a lack of words brought confusion?
Read more from Anna Liechty Sawatzky in Live your call.
**Excerpted from Live Your Call: Embracing God's Mission, © 2017 MennoMedia, Harrisonburg, Va. Used with permission.