The word “Word” – as in John’s reference to “the Word of life” in verse one of this letter – may seem abstract and vague. To be sure, we have a sense of the power of certain words and how we use them: sometimes positive as in, for example, caring and praising; sometimes negative as in, for example, stereotyping and criticizing. Yet it seems in our contemporary world we have lost something of the profound notion that words can and should have specific and concrete meaning and power.
Hence, we often use words in ways that tend to empty them of true definition, shared meaning, and vitality. To cite but some examples, watch any sports broadcast, and hear how liberally the announcers employ superlatives to describe athletes and their plays. Or consider how infrequently in our day we hear someone say “You have my word on it,” such that the expression means what it means and binds what it binds. Ponder the ease with which we often say one thing and yet do another thing. And observe how words like “God” and Christ” and “love” can take on almost any meaning whatsoever depending on what the user wants them to signify.
John meant nothing abstract or vague concerning “the Word of life.” Some people in John’s time did. They wanted to speak of the Word or of Jesus but detach the meaning from the specific, concrete world of flesh and blood history. The Jesus who bodily lived and died and rose – enjoying food and drink, suffering hunger and thirst, bleeding and expiring on a cross, leaving an empty tomb, incarnating the kingdom of God and thus transforming our physical, historical world – embarrassed them. So they spiritualized “Word” and “Jesus” to mean something entirely different from the Word which became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth.
John, however, understood that his faith – that is, Christian faith, for individuals and the community of believers – stemmed specifically and concretely from the Word incarnate in the living, dead, and risen Jesus. This Word “which was from the beginning” – echoing the beginning of Genesis and the gospel of John – had entered the physical, historical world in Jesus of Nazareth. John and others had – in the person of Jesus – heard the Word, seen the Word, and touched the Word. (What a stupendous thing!) This Word creates life and infuses life – yours, mine, and the world’s – with meaning and power: meaning and power to live in the light, and in true and joyous fellowship with God and with each other. This is good news!
In Jesus, we have God’s Word on it.