Christmas 1a: Incarnation negatives

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Creation / Gospels / Lectionary / New Testament

I have been so influenced on Elaine Pagels’ work on the prologue to John, that it’s hard for me to look at John without seeing it through that lens.

And, in this busy time of the year, I don’t think I’m going to expend much energy trying to move beyond it! So, here it goes…

Dr. Pagels identifies a feature she calls “the three negations” deeply embedded in the fabric of the Prologue. And it’s these negations which set up who Jesus is, and what his Incarnation means for John, and perhaps for us.

In John 1:5 the “Light shines in the darkness” but the darkness did not “understand” it. This is sometimes translated as “overcome,” but while lovely, it’s not as good a translation as “understand.”

The darkness did not understand Jesus.

In 1:10, when the Light comes into the world (cosmos) the people of the world failed to “know” or “recognize” it.

The nations did not recognize Jesus.

And, in 1:11, the Light came to his “own,” and his own people failed to receive it. Assumably, John is speaking of the Jewish People here. God’s People.

His own People did not receive Jesus.

Thus, the three negations. The Light came but was subsequently neither “understood,” “recognized,” nor “received.”

But, when the “Word became flesh” everything changes. It’s in the Incarnation that “we have seen his glory.”

For John the Incarnation is the “aha” moment for the whole creation, and for God’s “own.”


It’s the time when God is finally understood, recognized, received, and given glory.

Jesus becoming flesh is the turning point upon which all of history pivots. And, it’s when our relationship with God fundamentally shifts.

I think that will all the busy-ness of the season, and the subsequent exhaustion which comes from midnight services and Sunday School pageants… that preaches.

Christmas – The Incarnation changes everything.

Have a merry and blessed one.

The key article from which I’ve based this short entry on is here (the three negations is on the 5th page of the article): Pagels, Elaine H. Journal of Biblical Literature, 118 no 3 Fall 1999, p 477-496.

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