‘Word’: A Christmas story | Inquirer Opinion
Commentary

‘Word’: A Christmas story

Are you ready for the Christmas story of the Word?”

Jaws dropped as Reverend and Doctor Mina Navarro-Palomo asked 70 online students (most of them pastors) in a master theology class of the 17-year-old Life Growth Inc. last Dec. 3.

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“I never associated the ‘Word’ with Christmas story,” said a student of the famed teacher Navarro-Palomo, formerly with the 113-year-old Union Theological Seminary and the 87-year-old Cosmopolitan Church.

The screen flashed John 1:1-2. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.”

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“John’s Christmas pageant is about the Father and the Son. ’And the Word was with God’ means the Word was literarily face to face with God. John was saying there was another one with God: His only Son,” explained Navarro-Palomo, a University of the Philippines graduate and granddaughter of Bishop Cipriano Navarro, one of the founders of the 119-year-old United Church of Christ in the Philippines, an umbrella of mainstream Protestant churches.

The screen flashed John 1:14: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John referred to the human birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. John’s earlier “Word” prefaced Jesus’ divinity thousands of years before Mary and Bethlehem; a divinity that did not spark suddenly during his birth or death with resurrection. “John’s Christmas story is about the Father and the Son,” said Navarro-Palomo. “Jesus’ resurrection should nullify theologians’ lengthy debates as to the dates of his divinity.”

The history of the Word (Logos in Greek) helps in understanding John’s story of Jesus’ divinity before Bethlehem. “The term Logos originated among the Greeks 500 years before Christianity was established. The Greeks had (demi) gods, but they recognized one Logos, a spirit. According to Ephesus-based Greek philosopher Heraclitus, Logos was a universal divine reason. Other philosophers likened it to God’s mind. But for the Greeks and Romans (Israel’s colonial leaders, also influenced by the Greeks), Logos was not yet Yaweh,” lectured Navarro-Palomo.

“John, a fisherman, used (or appropriated) Logos, as if saying, ‘Amin ’yang Logos na ’yan. May pangalan ’yan, Yaweh.’ Thus, John wrote, ‘The Word is God. And the Son is God. Iyan ang Diyos namin, not one but two. Not two but one.’ He used Logos to refer to the existence and nature of God and Jesus Christ, as if saying, ‘We are like the Greeks who understand the complexity of the Word.’”

“This complexity should not bother us,” Navarro-Palomo advised her students, adding that the discussion does not yet include the Holy Spirit, the third party in Christians’ Triune God.

After hearing Navarro-Palomo’s lecture on John, an artist said, “I want to paint Christ’s birth with new eyes.”

“My images of Christ’s birth have changed, with John’s illumination,” said another, a sculptor.

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The youngest of 12 apostles, John wrote his supernatural Christmas story, including letters and The Revelation, up to 90 AD. The Christmas stories by Mark, written in 60 AD, and by Matthew and Luke, between 70 and 80 AD, narrated humans interacting with angels and the child Jesus.

Luke’s Christmas covered Mary’s “yes” when an angel said she would have a son, the Savior, by the Holy Spirit; and her travel with husband Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem for census registration (as ordered by Roman colonials) and for the birth of Jesus in a manger with shepherds on their knees. An angel and a choir of angels announced Christ’s coming to the shepherds. Luke’s other story included John (who would baptize Jesus) and his father Zechariah, who became mute for nine months because he did not believe the angel who said his barren wife Elizabeth would have a son.

Mark’s Christmas Story was the baptism of adult Jesus by John (the Baptist) in the Jordan River in a supernatural setting: Heaven opened, a dove descended, and a voice said, “You are my Son the beloved,” John insisted he was “unworthy” to baptize with water the “One” who could baptize with the Holy Spirit. He called everyone to repent and “prepare the way” for the “beginning of good news.”

Matthew’s Christmas focused on Joseph. An angel advised him in a dream when he learned his virgin would-be wife was pregnant by divine intervention. He and Mary went to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. Three Zoroastrian astrologists of priestly caste gave gifts to Jesus in a house in Bethlehem two years later. A dream told them not to tell the address of Jesus to King Herod in Jerusalem. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus escaped to Egypt ahead of Herod’s slaying of children up to age three in Bethlehem. Joseph’s family quietly returned to rural Nazareth after Herod’s son took over Israel.

For decades, the three stories have inspired art’s realistic depictions of Christ’s birth and growth.

Barbara Mae Naredo Dacanay, Manila’s former bureau chief of Dubai-based Gulf News, is also art critic and feature writer of several foreign and local publications.

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TAGS: Bible, Book of John, Chirstmas, God, Jesus Christ, Luke, Mark, Matthew, New Testament, Theology
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