"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made, and without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it." John 1:1 - 5.
With these lyrical words, John begins his telling of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. His words sound in our ears and touch our spirits so deeply that many scholars believe the prologue is an early Christian hymn, possibly a part of the early Church's worship. Perhaps, too, their soaring quality inspired later generations to use the eagle as a symbol for John the Evangelist.
The prologue is John's equivalent of the Christmas stories of Matthew and Luke. Luke chooses first- century Roman history as the setting for his story; Matthew sets his story in the context of God's salvation of Israel; but John, echoing the words of Genesis, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," chooses creation as the setting for his story.
John sees the role of God's creative word continuing in the ministry of Jesus. In Genesis God says, "Let there be light..." John identifies light with the life we have in Christ, "In him was life, and that life was the light of all people." When John calls Jesus, the light of the world, he wants us to hear. "Let there be life." This theme resounds in his gospel, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life... I have come that they might have life and have it abundantly."
The Christian life is about more than just slogging through life's motions day after day. It's about really living. Vincent van Gogh once said that it was "not blossoms, but blossoming" that he tried to paint. For the Christian living means taking part in the divine life that "makes alive." Life for us is not just a static part of our being. It is divine gift bestowed that we might participate in God's creative living.
Lately, we have heard a lot about the "Baby Boomers" turning 50. America is undergoing a demographic shift toward middle age, with all of its attendant problems. Worries about Social Security and Medicare are rising to the top of the political agenda, and bookstores are filled with new books promoting health and fitness for the "Centrum Generation." Grey-haired models are the latest advertising chic, and party conversations center on the need for stretching and strength conditioning to supplement one's aerobic workout. It's almost like we are having a kind of national "mid-life crisis."
Part of the "crisis" is media induced. Weight gain is a natural part of the aging process, but for years we have been fed a steady drumbeat about looking young and slender. Growing old seems to make us less valuable. We watch ads for Soloflex and Nordicflex Gold and imagine ourselves sculpting the perfect physique. In the age of television, health has become a supreme virtue. After all, "When you have your health, you have everything."
Well almost everything. TV also drives values of consumption and planned obsolescence. If you got a computer or exercise machine last year, this year you need to move up to a higher priced model. Christmas is the remembrance of God's free gift of grace in the Incarnation, but our consumer culture has transformed it into an annual binge of consumption.
In a climate of acquisition, we often seek the expensive substitute when the real thing is there for the taking. The Incarnation tells us that God intends to redeem our souls through the medium of our bodies. We are physical creatures whom God has called good. When we care for our bodies, we are better equipped for the ministry which builds up God's kingdom. When you have your health, you may not have everything, but you have a good start.
Rabbi Zusia, before he died, stated: "When I face the celestial tribunal I shall not be asked why I was not Abraham, Jacob or Moses, but why I was not Rabbi Zusia." Each of us has something special to offer to the kingdom. Most often it is not any of the things we usually worry about -- the perfect body, enough money, a fantastic house or a fast car. More likely it is something about us that we do not appreciate, like kindness, compassion and love.
John's prologue offers us a way out of an existence focused on merely living by revealing the nature of true life. The God of Mount Sinai who was once admired at a distance has now come closer to us than we are to ourselves. When the Word became flesh, Jesus took the flesh of the healthy and the sick, the young and the old, and yes, even the overweight flesh of out of shape "baby boomers," and gave them new purpose, power and direction.
When Jesus flexed his muscles it was not just for show -- things happened. Tables overturned at the Temple. Food appeared for hungry crowds. People were healed of their physical and spiritual hurts. Everything about Jesus was genuine and life-affirming. He was the original, unrepeatable, irreplaceable human being God intended him to be. His life was "a light to all people," shining in the gloom of self-centered earthly living.
As part of Christ's body, the Church, we, too, have been called to flex our muscles for the kingdom of God. When the body of Christ is too complacent, it becomes flabby and frail, and it soon begins to fail in its mission. Prayer, Bible study, regular Christian fellowship, Christian education, witnessing to our faith in word and deed, and giving for the spread of God's kingdom -- these are the elements of a balanced spiritual workout that enhances the way we live in the world and bring life to the body of Christ.
Our workout is not just an individual program to make us look and feel better. It is not an end in itself. Our workout plan is part of his larger plan of salvation that John tells us was from the beginning. Christ has chosen us to receive his life so that we may let our light shine for others. Believing in Jesus and living like God's children is a community effort. We cannot do it alone. Spiritual conditioning is an exercise in relationship. Our faith is strengthened when we see the joy that others find as they come to know a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ. As we, in turn, become stronger in our faith, others begin to see the light in us.
As the Church we are called to embody the joy, freedom and ecstasy of life in Christ and to share with others our confidence that his goodness, mercy and love are at work in every circumstance of life. That is the light that still shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. Pump iron!