LIGHT OF THE WORD
It is a bit strange that baby Jesus is the first figure in our illustrated gospel of John. Strange because John doesn’t actually describe the birth or the infancy of Jesus. Those stories, of Mary and Joseph, of the birth and the manger, of the Shepherds and the Angels and the Magi, appear only in Matthew and Luke. John, by contrast, opens with the story of Creation, with a retelling of Genesis 1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…all things were made through him" (John 1:1-3).
But for John, this story of the Creation is the story of Jesus. The Word of God at the Creation is the same Word which “became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). That is why Stephen Procopio, in this first image, combined the shape of a baby together with a vast universe of stars and planets and galaxies. The same Word through which all the worlds were made entered into our world as a baby. He entered into his own Creation. The cosmic Christ became the tiny Child.
Now God’s first Word at the Creation was “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). Similarly, John describes the Word as the “true light, which gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). And later in John, Jesus himself asserts, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). In a separate image for this later passage, Stephen Procopio depicts rays of light emerging out of a Christ figure, who is not depicted directly, but whose shape appears in negative space.
It is almost as if Jesus is the Sun, so bright you cannot see him, but whose radiance illuminates everything else. This image recalls a quotation of CS Lewis, who wrote,
“I BELIEVE IN CHRISTIANITY AS I BELIEVE THAT THE SUN HAS RISEN, NOT ONLY BECAUSE I SEE IT, BUT BECAUSE BY IT, I SEE EVERYTHING ELSE.”
In the image of baby Jesus, we see light not only in the stars, but also in bands that pass through his hands and feet. We are meant to consider the nails that pierced Jesus when he grew up and went to the cross. The Word became flesh in order to go to the cross. And yet it is fascinating to notice that these bands of light alternate between light and darkness, representing the mystery of God’s providence.
Those who crucified Jesus intended evil, yet through their evil God accomplished good. Through man's dark designs, God brings forth light. Thus "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). Indeed, when light emerges from darkness, it makes a more glorious crown.
Images by Stephen Procopio · Commentary by Peter Johnston
Come See a Man is our illustrated paperback edition of the Gospel of John. Read the unabridged text alongside over 30 illustrations by Stephen Procopio. Now Available.