“Responding to Disappointment”
December 25, 2022
John 1:1–14 The Prologue
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.**
Optimism tends to accompany a new year. New beginnings provide us a sense of freshness, even when we leave the past with disappointment, loss or brokenness. 2022 is nearly finished and soon some pundit will attach a label to it, much like Slate magazine did back in 2014 naming it “The Year of Outrage.”[i] Editors went so far as to develop an interactive calendar noting what Americans had been outraged about each day of 2014. This year has had its outrage, too.
We live in a world marked by outrage. Sometimes it is over petty things like the headline: “An Irish cafe bans loud Americans” to much larger reasons. The source of outrage often differ between people, rarely is it universally shared. But outrage always has the power to divide us.
There is a growing sense among us that something is seriously wrong with the world. We feel powerless and unable to fix it. Faced with frustration over social and moral disorder, the evolutionary aspects of our brains prepare us to fight. Outrage is often the outcome. We may think we are angry because we are right and someone else is very wrong. But pulling back the curtain, anger is often the result of disappointment.
The opening verses of John’s Gospel introduces us to elevated language which has marked John as “a more spiritual gospel.” These verses do not deny disappointment. Yet, what captures attention is that John looks and sounds different than Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John uses metaphorical and symbolic language to describe Jesus in ways the others do not. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Light of the World, the Good Shepherd, and the True Vine.
The distinctiveness of John’s account of Jesus begins beyond time and history. This explains why there are no Christmas pageants based on it. Luke and Matthew tell birth stories which have clear, visual parts that can be costumed: shepherds, angels, wise men, sheep. The inanimate visuals can be crafted out of cardboard and placed around the front of the church for the annual children’s program: a stable, a manger, the star overhead. Combined, these visuals let us admire the story of Jesus’ birth and enjoy the children before we head back into a world that is spinning in all directions, going who-knows-where, with a bunch of swollen egos changing the script every 24-hour news cycle.
There is no Bethlehem in John’s gospel, no holy family bending over a makeshift cradle that lights their faces from below. There is not even a baby in this story, because John’s nativity begins long before that. It begins “in the beginning,” the same way Genesis does. It begins with the big bang of God’s Word, bringing the world into being one word at a time.
Yet for all its loftiness, right away John hints at trouble. Yes, “the light shines in the darkness,” but why do we need to say that “the darkness did not overcome it” (1:5)? Yes, John the Baptist testified to Jesus, but need we insist that “He himself was not the light” (1:8)? Jesus has entered the world, but isn’t it sad that “the world did not know him” (1:10) and “his own people did not accept him” (1:12)? This gospel reaches beyond the stars, but pain and disappointment very much tie it to this earth.
Underneath John’s story lies a profound question. If it is true that the very word of God “became flesh and lived among us,” how can it be that people do not believe? Throughout John’s narrative, we encounter this deep disappointment. “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” (3:10). “If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?” (8:46). “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you” (15:18). Disappointment time and again.
Disappointment can give birth to outrage. We are disappointed when others do not share our values or allegiances. It is difficult to understand how someone else could disagree to the principles we hold. We bump into such situations often. Nearly three quarters of Americans believe global warming is happening which begs the question what in the world is going on with the one-quarter who don’t?[ii] Opinion on the current national reckoning over the history of slavery and racism in the United States casts these divisions starkly: Among U.S. adults overall, 53% say increased attention to that history is a good thing for society, while 26% say it is a bad thing and another 21% say it is neither good nor bad.[iii]
No wonder we are angry: we care about these things, but we do not agree.
Disappointment is inevitable when things do not go as we think they should. Perhaps you have encountered disappointment on this holiday weekend. But outrage? We can do something about outrage. John’s prologue invites us to another way. These verses do not deny disappointment. They respond to disappointment with testimony: the world may not get it, but God has come to us. Many disbelieve, but we have seen God’s glory. No one has seen God, but Jesus shows us what God is about. In an age of real worry and anxiety, we celebrate. Instead of outrage, we testify. God has come to us in the Word, Jesus Christ and brought us life and healing.
The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. Merry Christmas dear readers.
[i] “The Year of Outrage” slate.com December 17, 2014.
[ii] Yale Climate Opinion Maps 2021 climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us/ February 3, 2022.
[iii] “Deep Divisions in Americans’ Views of Nation’s Racial History — and How To Address” It PewResearch.org August 12, 2021.
Maha Rukab Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Word Made Flesh, Donald Jackson, 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Collegeville, Minnesota USA.