Monday, January 6, 2014

Epiphany: The Word Made Flesh


Epiphany is a Christian holiday usually celebrated on January 6th that is emphasized more in Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches, but I think it has value for all Christians.  The Greek term epiphaneia means "to manifest or reveal."  On Epiphany, Christians remember how Jesus Christ's deity was manifested.  As such, churches may discuss Jesus' baptism, where his deity was declared or miracles that revealed his deity.  Celebrated twelve days after Christmas, some churches commemorate the visit of the Wise Men and recognize Jesus' arrival for all nations.  I always leave Christmas decorations up until Epiphany and try to find ways to celebrate the holiday.  This year I am going to concentrate on the Word made flesh as found in John 1.

I've always loved the beauty of the beginning of John's gospel.  In eloquent words, John speaks of the Word's revelation to man, how the Word became a human being.  The Greek term for word is logosLogos is a fascinating term for John to choose.  Have you ever wondered why John didn't simply say Jesus or Christ?  Why did he say "word"?  I know many Christians that think this refers to the Biblical word become flesh in Jesus or God's promises become flesh and although this is part of the meaning, there is more to it.  In fact, a deeper meaning to the term logos had been around quite a while by John's time.  It was a term used by philosophers which John appropriated for his gospel.

Heraclitus was a Greek philosopher from Ephesus around 500 BC.  He defined logos as the source and order of the universe.  He further described it as "the principle according to which all things change, that which determines the nature of the flux that resides in all human beings" (www.abu.nb.ca).  Basically, for Heraclitus, logos is the mind or reason that permeates the universe.

Aristotle, the well-known Greek philosopher and student of Plato, called logos argument from reason.  In this kind of argument, one seeks to give logical reasons to persuade someone of a fact.

The stoics, advocates of stoicism, a Hellenistic philosophy, said that logos is reason that pervades and animates the universe.  To the Stoics, this logos was material and could be identified with God or Nature.  They believed each person possessed some part of the logos.

Philo of Alexandria was a Jewish philosopher and a contemporary of John the disciple.  Logos for Philo was the creative principle of the universe.  He often paralleled the Logos with divine wisdom.  The reason he did so was that he relied on the Platonic idea that imperfect matter and perfect idea were distinguished from one another.  For this reason, God could not come into contact with any matter.  The Logos, then, is the image of God and this is the image that God made in man’s mind.  Philo said the Logos was "the archangel with many names, the expiator of sins, and the mediator and advocate for men. He said the Logos is a kind of shadow cast by God, having the outlines but not the blinding light of the Divine Being. The Logos as ‘interpreter’ announces God's designs to man" (Jewish Encyclopedia).

John would have been aware of how the term logos was used in philosophy.  Read now John's profound description of the Logos, how he picked up on the above philosophical meanings and transcended them:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men...And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1-4, 14).

John declares the Logos is indeed the source and order of the universe--all things came into being through him.  He is the one who pervades and animates the universe--everything exists because of him.  Yet he is much more than mind or reason--he is life entire.  He is the light of men, says John.  He exposes the darkness as the divine wisdom that enlightens men.  John departs from Philo, declaring with boldness that the Logos has come into contact with matter--in fact, he has become matter himself, the Word made flesh.  He is not a shadow of God, he is the exact representation of God's nature (Hebrews 1:3).

In appropriating a well-known philosophical term, John tied and modified the philosophical beliefs of his time to Jesus, revealing him as the true Logos.  One need not look further than Jesus Christ to find the true divine
being, "the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man" (John 1:9).  Those who come to this light are given the right to become children of God (John 1:12).  This Logos is personal.  He comes to enlighten and save and adopt.

This is what we celebrate at Epiphany--our Savior manifest, the Logos made flesh, the creator of the universe revealed in a man.

Tonight, we will read John 1:1-14, sing the hymn "Christ Is God Incarnated" and then celebrate with treats and special raspberry soup as we remember how we are children of God only because the Word became flesh.