That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)
I thought we might spend a little time looking at the First Letter of John, which is tucked away at the end of the New Testament. Like John’s Gospel, it repays patient attention and is the product of a mind which has had plenty of time to reflect on Jesus’ teaching. Along with Peter and James, John was part of Jesus’ inner circle and it is clear from the Gospel that he thought deeply on what he had experienced. In other words, this is good stuff!
As John puts pen to parchment, he consciously brings to mind the opening to his Gospel. There, he started with “In the beginning was the Word”. Here, he starts with “that which was from the beginning”, but where the Gospel was taking the cosmic view, here John is being more personal. Yes, Jesus may have been “from the beginning” but he was also one whom John could call friend. He saw him, heard him and could reach out and touch him.
At the outset of the letter, here is an important fact to bear in mind: Christianity is not simply a philosophy or a set of ethics. It is not mere moralism, or being ‘nice’. It is far more than all of that: it is a person. As John puts it, “the life was made manifest”. God himself was made manifest here on earth, in the corner of the created universe. Jesus is nothing less than God made visible, God taking flesh and living amongst us.
This is why ‘Christian’ begins with ‘Christ’. Any attempt to make Jesus simply a human, or to gloss over his teaching is to miss the point. When he speaks, he speaks as God. When he works mircales, he demonstrates who is.
What a privilege John had in being able to spend years with Christ. What a privilege we have in being able to read John’s reflection on his time, and then to be able to relate to the selfsame God! That is what makes John’s ‘joy complete’.