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…
-1 John 1:1–2
“I wandered out in the world for years / while you just stayed in your room
I saw the crescent / You saw the whole of the moon…”
-“The Whole of the Moon,” The Waterboys (1985)
*For this year’s Advent writings, I will be reflecting on 1 John 1:1–2 by going slowly, line-by-line, through each clause, in order to contemplate the beauty of Christ’s once and future coming.
Advent is a time of beginnings. It is the start of the Church Year, the first days and weeks in the Church’s calendar. Advent is the remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ, humankind’s most important origin story. All of this situates the people of God in their proper posture: one of waiting. A beginning necessitates an ending, and Advent starts things in order to create a kind of anticipation within the Christian community. Advent has become, then, an invitation to go back to the start: where do we begin as Christians? What is our origin story? From where and who do we come?
We come from “God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth,” according to the Apostles’ Creed. He exists in perfect unity and Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit.
The Triune God — eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — is a God in a constant state of beginning. Because he has no end, because he cannot die, each day in the life of the Almighty is a day where he remains the same. Human beings age, deteriorate, and die. Each day in the life of the human is a day closer to his or her’s last. We are constantly aware of the passing of time — its frailty, insufficiency, unfairness. We must, “seize the day.” We have to “take advantage” of the time we have left. God has nothing to seize because he already possesses all of it. He has no needs, nor does he have to take advantage of time. He has always and will always exist apart from its strictures. God is fundamentally eternal and therefore unaffected by time’s pressure and prison.
Which is why the Bible is constantly telling us about God’s presence at the “beginning” or “the foundation of the world.” Of course he was there. There is no place and no time where God has not existed.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” is the first sentence of Holy Scripture (Genesis 1:1). It positions all of God as pre-existing all of Creation: God creating, the Spirit hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2), and the Eternal Word shaping light’s first appearance (“And God said,” Genesis 1:3). All of Him was occurring before all of this. God’s eternality is an essential aspect of Israel’s understanding of his power: he was before all things, therefore above all things, holding them together (Job 38:4, Colossians 1:17).
Jesus’ most transgressive statements were not about loving enemies, forgiving tax collectors, or caring for the sick and poor. Jesus was killed for statements like this: “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58). The next verse, those hearing him picked up stones to kill him. Jesus was not killed for loving people. He was not a threat because of any political statements he made or did not make. Nor was he an enemy of the state for his moral philosophy. He was killed for claiming he was before all things, for saying he was “I AM.”
Jesus’ followers knew that this was true of him: He was “from the beginning” (1 John 1:1). To the disciples, Jesus was there at Genesis 1:1, involved in the creation acts of the very earth that he ended up walking upon, and dying upon. John is most explicit about it: “In the beginning was the Word,” is the controversial opening to his gospel account, a clear homage to Genesis 1 (John 1:1). He opens his epistle similarly: “That which was from the beginning…the Word of Life…Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1, 3). And, in his apocalyptic vision, John hears Christ himself saying “I am the Alpha and the Omega…who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8).
The other disciples professed this as well. “He is before all things,” Paul wrote to the Colossians, “and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Jesus Christ — the eternal Son of God — also “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4, emphasis mine), even “before the ages began” (2 Timothy 1:9). Peter has a large vision of the Eternal Lord for whom “one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
These disciples most certainly received such a teaching from Jesus himself, who not only made the aforementioned claim about eternally existing before Abraham (John 8:58), but also before Satan: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). After his resurrection, he claimed, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18) and before that had warned his disciples that “all things have been handed over to me” (Matthew 11:27). Perhaps most controversially, he called God his “Father.”
Because Jesus Christ exists eternally as God, he exists eternally at the beginning. This pre-existence of God demonstrates his complete authority, majesty, and power over all things. To be “before” something is to have power over it. I have authority over my son Jude because I pre-exist him: without me, there is no him. Your place of work has “seniority” for a reason. And when a freshman makes the varsity team, it’s a big deal for similar logic: to be there before is to have a level of authority over the space in which you inhabit. No one likes the new guy who acts like he knows more than those who have been there forever.
Advent instructs us to go back to the beginning and be humbled by what we find. Returning to creation, we see the Almighty Father making the heavens and the earth, and we stand in awe, silent. Returning to the prophets, we see the Spirit of God announcing the beginning of the coming of One who will stand in our place, condemned. Returning to the manger, we see the Son who is God, and we kneel in worship as we see the God of the Beginning in the hay beginning again — for us. Because God has no end, he is constantly beginning, and because he is constantly beginning, he is constantly First, and therefore always in power.
Anywhere you have been or will be, God has already been. Any thought you have, God has always had. Any idea you conceive, God created. Any of our “firsts” will always first be God’s. There is nothing you can experience that God has not authored or understood or taken on. He cannot be surprised, will not be beaten, and is the only One able to hold it all together. The only response is worship.