Love’s herald, John, saw Jesus come

* A simple meditation on the person of Jesus then, and Jesus now.



Not all Christians would agree, but many think that to call Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is to talk in a religious jargon that most people today cannot begin to understand. That
is the point of view that lies behind the construction of this hymn. The metaphor ‘Lamb of God’ and the concept of ‘sin’ do not normally occur in the mental outlook of most people in secular society. A
key aim of this hymn is therefore to re-express imagery used of Jesus in John 1.29-34, in terms that have some better chance of catching contemporaries’ attention.

The Gospel text presents Jesus in extravagant terms, as Lamb of God, as the one who is to baptize with the Holy Spirit, and as the Son of God. These represent developed doctrinal understandings of Jesus’
significance, but they do not stand alone as assertions to be accepted or not. They are placed before the readers and hearers of the Gospel through the agency of John the Baptist. Asked if he himself might be
the Messiah (John 1.19-20), he says that he, John, came baptizing with water for this reason that he (Jesus) might be revealed to Israel. John’s mission is to introduce people to God’s only Son, who is
close to the Father’s heart (John 1.18), who himself makes the Father known. John is “Love’s witness, servant, and herald”, who “saw Jesus come”. If people take John seriously, they may be willing
seriously to consider that he “proclaimed…recognized…declared God’s Son come near”.
In each of the first three stanzas the first couplet consists of John’s testimony, as set forth in the scriptural text. Each of the second couplets attempts to articulate the scriptural witness of the first in
terms that may be more accessible to contemporary understanding. In verse 1, the idea that “Christ crucified…lifts us up to be Love’s pride” combines the image of Jesus lifted up from the earth drawing all people to himself (John 12.32) with a picture of God’s Lamb as the fulfilment of all that the God of Love wills for humankind. Some find this is a difficult notion, as pride is commonly represented as a ‘deadly sin’. But, when the sin of the world is taken away, humans become restored to the likeness of the Creator. Pride, on this understanding, is humility transfused with divinity; or, in George Herbert’s phrase: ‘man well-dressed’.

Verse 2 addresses the mystery of the birth into history of eternal Wisdom. Instead of attempting any grandiose doctrinal formulation, the second couplet recognises the Word of eternal Wisdom simply as
‘Love still in bloom, a creature sprung from life’s warm womb’. There is deliberate ambiguity here: it is Jesus of Nazareth who is referred to first of all; but we are invited to consider that any and every
creature has been born from the womb of God. It is not right to idolize Jesus while degrading any of his sister or brother creatures.

Baptism is the idea informing verse 3: baptism as initiation into a changed mindset and a way of life that costs (as T.S.Eliot put it) ‘not less than everything’. Hidden within John’s witness to the Son of
God enfleshed within history was the cross from which life-giving blood and water would flow (John 19.34b). This hymn accordingly asserts that those who bear the costs of peace-building also give birth
to Love in the world; by implication, they share in the mission of the Son of God. In the final stanza, “we” identify ourselves with John, as “Love’s people”. We identify with him in living faithfully before God while waiting for the One who was to come. We, too, long to know “the truth revealed” that will make God’s goodness plain to all. In the meantime we (we cannot put limits on who ‘we’ are) celebrate all that we know of Love to date. The Blessed Trinity is named in terms that are more than merely formulaic. We are gathered into a living mystery from which our praise emerges like the Word made flesh…among us (John 1.14)