Then I’ll begin….
I don’t know about you but, when I am writing something, I find the most difficult
part is always the beginning. Where do you start? Some story writers start by constructing
a vivid opening scene - like the one when a young boy encounters a convict in a graveyard.
Can you recall the writer and title of that book? Others construct a memorable
opening sentence or line. I wonder if you can identify the sources of these famous
1. If music be the food of love, play on…
2. It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.
3. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good
fortune must be in want of a wife.
Sometimes the same introduction will serve for a whole series of stories. This next
example will separate the more senior from the more junior amongst you! Can you finish
off this opening question and do you know who, so gently, spoke these now famous
Are you sitting comfortably?
Where to begin, was a problem faced by the New Testament writers in relation to the
gospel message. Paul, the earliest recorded writer in the New Testament, started
with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. His only experience of Jesus was
of the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Mark, the earliest of the four gospels,
begins with Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist, while Matthew and Luke both start
their gospels with stories, from differing traditions, about Jesus’ birth. However,
the writer of the Fourth Gospel beats them all because John, in his prologue, goes
back beyond everything to do with Jesus’ life, death and resurrection to the beginning
of time itself! The introduction to the prologue parallels exactly the opening words
of the book of Genesis, In the beginning…
It is extremely likely that you will have heard the prologue to John’s Gospel read
over the Christmas period, for it is recognised as so important by the Church that
there is an expectation that it should be read at sometime on Christmas Day. Its
structure is beautifully poetic - even in our English translations - and it was possibly
sung as a hymn in early Christian worship, even before John decided to use it as
the opening to his gospel.
Its focus on the Word, the Logos, in the original Greek, perhaps seems strange to
us today when words are so commonplace. We are bombarded with them - in everyday
speech, in print, through the media even via cyber space – so what was so special
about this Word, this Logos, we might well ask? Perhaps it was the way it spoke
to all Christians at the end of the 1st Century. At that time, Christianity was a
melting pot of communities from different backgrounds. Some were formerly Jews,
others Gentiles - and each community would have had its own religious and philosophical
The ‘Jewish’ Christians reading the prologue would recall that it was by the Word
of God that creation took place. Every act of creation in Genesis begins with the
phrase, And God said… They would also link it with the idea of Wisdom in the Old
Testament. In Proverbs Chapter 8, Wisdom becomes personified and says, the Lord
possessed me at the beginning of his work, before his deeds of old. I was appointed
from eternity before the world began. I was there when he set the heavens in place.
In contrast, the Greek-influenced ‘Gentile’ Christians, distinguished between the
Word that a person speaks from the Word that stays within a person – the person’s
reason, their rationality. As they looked at the universe, they saw a rational pattern
to everything, so they thought of the Logos as running through the universe like
a ‘World Soul.’ In their different ways, both Jewish and Gentile Christians would,
therefore, see the Logos as the starting point of all things.
John’s prologue climaxes with the incarnation of God in Jesus, and the word became
flesh and lived among us. You will notice the writer doesn’t say, took a body or
became man but, instead, uses the most shocking word he can, flesh - the very opposite
of God - to press home to the reader the extent of God’s love in the sending of his
In his Gospel, following his prologue, John does not dwell on the circumstances of
Jesus’ birth but, like Mark, goes straight onto Jesus’ meeting with John the Baptist.
However, I suspect that, for most of us, at Christmas time, the stories of Jesus’
birth are essential to our understanding of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ
and, perhaps especially, to that of the young in our care. To this end I’d like
to reflect, briefly, upon what a helpless, tiny baby can bring to our understanding
of God’s rightful place in our lives?
The incarnation was the supreme example of God’s love for us and the birth of a baby
is a time of joy and love. As a family, we have experienced this personally, of
late, with the birth, last May, of Daisy, our third grandchild. But, perhaps, we
can all imagine the joy of our parents at the time of our birth – the love that our
birth engendered in their hearts. Can we imagine the pride of our mother or Father
as they took us out in our prams for the first time to show us off to the world?
Can we imagine the love that we, as new born babies, sparked in our wider families
and the neighbours in our street? Babies generate love like no other generations
can - a love that mirrors the love of God for us, as expressed in Jesus Christ.
Unlike some creatures that can run from the moment of birth, a new born baby is helpless
and needs total care from his or her parents. This reminds us, not only of God’s
care for us, but of His sacrifice in sending his son into the world and His trust
in Mary and Joseph that they would, in obedience to His will, care and nurture His
only begotten son.
One of the first things a mother does upon receiving her child is to check he or
she is perfect. I am sure your mother counted your fingers and toes to see they
were all there and you may remember doing it to your own children. A new born baby
is such an example of perfection that it can only remind us of the wonder of all
of God’s creation.
The birth of a baby automatically generates hopes and fears. I was born during the
Second World War and often wonder whether my parents agonised about whether or not
to bring a child into the world in those difficult years. Your children may have
been growing up during the height of the Cold War and their futures and safety may,
occasionally, have given you sleepless nights. Mary and Joseph may have worried
about their child growing up in an occupied country but could Mary have ever envisaged
that her journey through motherhood would bring her to the foot of his cross? What
of their hopes? Could they have ever, in their wildest dreams have imagined that
their tiny baby would overcome sin and death through his resurrection from the dead?
It is part of the wonder of Christianity that we can come to an understanding of
God’s love for us in the sending of His son through either, the wonderful poetry
of John’s prologue to his gospel, or the story of a new born baby in a stable.
The language and nature of these testimonies may differ and they may appeal to different
audiences but their message is the same. Over the Christmas period, we celebrate
the wonder of God’s incarnation through His son, Jesus Christ, whom we are pleased
to call Lord.
(Did you answer the questions correctly?
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens was the novel which opened with the graveyard
The answers to the opening sentence questions were;
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
1984 by George Orwell
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Are you sitting comfortably? was followed by my chosen title, Then I’ll begin, and
the words were spoken by Daphne Oxenford.)