In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh.
John the evangelist opens his gospel with these famous words. Not as famous as the story from Luke which begins with the words, ‘Und es begab sich aber zu der Zeit, daß ein Gebot von dem Kaiser Augustus ausging’ – ‘In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus’, but here, in John, we have the Christmas story in condensed form: and God’s Word became flesh.
And this is definitely a different kind of Christmas story – no angels, no shepherds, no manger, but – the Word. And this Word – Jesus Christ – is spoken into the world and our existence; into the holy night, and into all of our days.
But then we all know that Christ is but one word that we hear, day in, day out. We are surrounded by the spoken word, the sung word, the written word– newspapers, soap operas, reality TV, advertisements, sermons. Emails, Instant Messages, blogs and tweets. These days, everyone seems to have something to say, and if only for the sake of saying it. The means are available to spread the word, no matter how irrelevant or inconsequential, and, boy, do people take advantage of that. All this bickering alone before Christmas: keep Christ in Christmas; can we say ‘merry Christmas’? Are people offended by ‘happy holidays’? Words, words, words, we can distracted by all those words from the things that really count, and what the Holy Day season is all about, in the end.
We are swamped with words, and our brains have to work hard to filter out the words that actually may be important. Often we don’t hear the really important things because of this massive attack of the words we are exposed to each and every day.
If I conducted a poll right here and right now, what is your favorite Christmas Carol, many probably would say, “Silent Night”. And why? Because usually life is not peaceful and silent, because the idea of silence and heavenly peace sound so wonderful in a world where we are bombarded by noises and words each and every day.
Silence. A Rest for the ears, the brain, the heart, our blood pressure. I’ve never been to a silent retreat, where you don’t speak for an entire week or so. But I heard from several people that such retreats are immensely powerful, because, with all the words shut out, one actually has the chance to hear and experience the one Word. One actually starts to pay attention to what’s really important. One actually starts to listen to God.
For God has spoken, and this words echoes through time and space.
But back to words we use every day. Words mean communication, and communication is essential for human beings. You may have heard the philosopher Descartes’ statement, “I think, therefore I am.” I would amend that and argue that we truly start to exist the moment we communicate with one another. Because it is in communication that we relate to one another, and we can only truly discover who we are if we see ourselves reflected in those around us. Young children are eager to learn how to talk, because they know that the world will become bigger with every word they learn and speak. Even the deaf and mute, even blind and deaf people like Helen Keller are given words to let the world in – and to share themselves with the world. Words, no matter if spoken or signed or touched or written, connect us with the world around us.
And we all know about the power of words. How one word can lift us up. How words can bring healing and hope. How words can empower us, stir us up, rouse us. Words like, ‘Well done’, ‘I believe in you’, ‘I love you’. Familiar words like the beginning of the Christmas story according to Luke move something deep inside in us. But then there is also the destructive power of words. One word can destroy. Words can hurt and discourage us. Words can snuff out enthusiasm. How many here, especially in their childhood, have had the experience that they did something with joy, or you tried hard working on something, just to hear a snide comment about it? “You can’t sing”, “You just have no talent for math”, “You’ll never amount to anything” – how many potentials have been quenched in history by the wrong word spoken at the wrong time, I wonder?
Words are powerful. In the very beginning of creation, God SPEAKS, and things and all living beings come into existence. It is God’s word which makes all things and, at the same time, starts the relationship between God and all creation. God, according to Genesis 1, doesn’t only craft everything and leaves creation to its own devices, no: by speaking creation into being, God makes clear that there is communication. The word echoes through time and space. God is not finished. God is not finished with us.
And in today’s gospel, the so-called John prologue, we strongly hear the reference to the creation story: In the beginning, there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him. Christ is the most important word God speaks. And this Word became flesh and was born and grew up and taught and healed and suffered and died on a cross and on the third day rose again.
This is a powerful attempt God makes to reach out to us, and to communicate with us, to engage us, to show us, who and what we are: Forgiven. Redeemed.
The Word becomes visible and tangible, in the babe in the manger, in the man Jesus. God’s will for us, which is for us to be in a healed, a restored relationship with God, with our neighbor, and all of co-creation, cannot be ignored, as we witness the incarnation of God, and the birth of Jesus Christ. God’s will for us cannot be ignored as we hear Jesus Christ, see Jesus Christ, touch Jesus Christ, and, yes, taste Jesus.
God speaks. God speaks to us.
And it is not a harsh word. No, the word God speaks lies in a manger. The word God speaks rests in the arms of his mother. It is a word of love, a word of understanding of our human condition. This word is spoken to us, and it remains with us – when we feel weak or discouraged. When we feel sad. When we feel like a failure. When we don’t love ourselves and can’t forgive ourselves. In such moments, remember the child in Mary’s arms. A tender word is spoken to us. And God promises to be with us in and through this word, always.