By Deana Rogers
When I was a young, my fifth grade Sunday school teacher challenged our little class of five or six ten-year-old girls to memorize John 1:1–14. The available version of the Bible in 1968 was the King James Version, and we jumped at the challenge to do it in one week. Mrs. Dubois, whom we called Aunt Jane, rewarded us with small gifts and invited us over to her house to pull taffy and open presents around her silver Christmas tree with rotating green and turquoise lights. We thought everything about her was amazing.
We didn’t know it then, but the real gift she gave us would last a lifetime. The Scripture that made its way into our fifth-grade memory banks is easily accessible, some fifty years later.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. . . . And the Word was made flesh, and tabernacled among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1–5, 14 KJV).
To be honest, the language was a little confusing for a ten-year-old. We grasped what we could of the purposeful explanation from our beloved teacher. The lasting treasure, though, was that the written Word woven into the fabric of our minds became the lens through which we would come to understand and know the living Word.
It would be years before I understood that the “Word” wasn’t a secret code that John was using to confuse his readers. A few years ago, I ran across a Jewish encyclopedia in a university library that explained the term logos, the Greek translation of “word,” as it came to be used in Judaism to describe God. Followers of YHWH, committed to the belief that God was One God, were looking for language to describe the part of God (or emanation of God) that engaged with people on a personal level. They knew God was transcendent—above all. But they were also certain God had spoken to their ancestors and revealed his will to them. Abraham was a friend of God, and Moses met with God in the tabernacle (or tent of meeting.) How could they describe One God, above all, who at the same time was present with his people? They went back to the creation story and concluded that the voice of God, the words which spoke the world into existence, was the link between God who was transcendent and God who was near. He was still One God, but the mediator (no kidding, their language, not mine) between God and man was the logos.
Ahh . . . John, that is why you referred to Jesus as the Word. I didn’t grasp it when I was ten, but you were speaking language which with your audience would have resonated. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” You explained the incarnation in the vernacular that made complete sense to your listeners.
Phrase by phrase throughout the years, the written Word has revealed Jesus to me.
- “And the Word was made flesh . . .” The God who spoke the world into existence put on newborn baby skin. Infinite became finite.
- “and tabernacled among us . . .” Jesus camped in the middle of his first-century community. His neighbors lived in his presence. He had conversations with them. He was their friend.
- “and we beheld his glory . . .” The glory of God Almighty came near and was safe for us to look upon. Jesus showed us what God’s glory looks like, and it was full of grace and truth.
Mary was a young girl whose mind was steeped in the ancient Hebrew Scriptures. Stories of her ancestors and the presence and promise of God were so real for her that when an angel spoke, she listened. When Gabriel announced that God had found favor with her and had chosen her to bear God’s son, she responded, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary knew the story she was a part of, and that knowledge readied her to step up and take her place in it.
She must have memorized the prayers of Hannah, the psalms of David, and the words of the minor prophets. Her familiar prayer of praise upon her arrival at Elizabeth’s home is full of references to these Scriptures and the promises and work of God throughout Jewish history (Luke 1:39–56). Knowing God’s story prepared Mary for the role she would play in God’s ongoing redemptive narrative. Scripture gave her context for her place in God’s story, language for her prayers, and the courage and faith to trust God with the outcome.
For the past few years during Advent, a few friends and I have memorized and recalled the Magnificat, Mary’s prayer of praise recorded in Luke 1:46–55. It seems to take a little more review to get it to stick than when I was ten, and we use a more modern translation than the old King James Version of the Bible. But it is becoming a Christmas season tradition that centers us. In this passage, faced with a pregnancy that would mar her reputation, and a future that would bring both great sorrow and longed-for hope, Mary chose to remember, with joy, the God of her story.
As 2018 comes to a close and we look with new resolve to the year ahead, let’s commit to remembering God’s story and making his word a part of our long-term memories. If you have the privilege of influencing children, help them memorize Scripture in 2019—it will stay for a lifetime.
May the written Word, woven into the fabric of our minds, become the lens through which we understand and know Jesus. May it give us context for our place in God’s story, and the faith and courage to trust him with the outcome.
There are many great resources available to help you get started with Scripture memory. One that would be worth your while is from Navigators.