Let’s start from the very beginning. Some might say that it’s a very good place to start. We think of the beginning as the very first thing. It’s what happened before everything else. It is “in the beginning.”
We tell this story with it’s own beginning. We tell this story from our faith as if the very first thing was the journey that Mary and Joseph made to Bethlehem. This story begins with a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. Of all places, this story begins in a barn. No matter how unlikely, we are perfectly content to hold onto our story that begins in that barn in Bethlehem.
But, John is not so certain as he pens the words, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John challenges us to rethink our beginnings. He wants us to read his words only to scratch our heads and flip back to those opening words in Genesis. John evokes the imagery of formless blackness but challenges us not to get stuck there.
In tune with the ancients, John understood time as something that was not marked by past, present and future. The present wasn’t just the here and now. It was everything in living memory. What would our present extend to if we included everything in living memory? How would our conception of time expand if we were to include everything in visible prospect? As daunting as this seems, John and the ancients would have understood the past and the future as truly daunting. These markers of time were God’s time. In this space between God’s time and our present is where the beginning resides.
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This is the same Word that created the world in seven days. But, as you know, this isn’t a past event. Instead, this beginning is in our present. It is part of our living memory as we continue to retell the story of a barn in Bethlehem. It is not enough for an angel to come and announce, “’and he shall be called Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God is with us.’” God is not only with us. God is in our present. God is part of our living memory. God is right here with us.
As many times as we retell the story of a barn in Bethlehem, this is not our beginning. This is not where it all began as God’s story continues to be a presence here with us. The formless blackness of creation still creeps into our present. In the seasons of our own darkness, we wonder if this can really be true. Our world so often seems dark. Our president continues to appear on frustrating televised press conferences. MTA and other unionized workers are scorned for their struggles toward safety and security on the job. Religious divides intensify as our nation quibbles over taking the Christ out of Christmas. And our troops are still overseas while here at home, we gather to celebrate our first holiday without the laughter of an uncle, the joy of a mother or the companionship of a dear friend. Our darkness seems hopelessly opaque even two thousand years later.
John reminds us that there is a light that shines in our darkness. It is the Word. It is the same word that created the skies and the earth. It’s this Word that releases the creative power of God’s revelation. It is this creative power that John calls us toward in our beginning. On the longest night of the year, we light four candles to remember that God is indeed with us. We light four candles of hope, peace, joy and love to overcome the darkness that threatens to overcome us. Two thousand years later, when we struggle to start from the very beginning, John offers us the metaphor of light. A light that shines in our darkness. Filled with this light, we celebrate that God will always be part of our present. This is our endless beginning.