In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were created through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What was created in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
These are the opening words of the gospel according to John; here we have no traditional birth story, no Bethlehem, no manger, no star, but a rather abstract concept: Jesus Christ is the Word that came into the world. The Word became flesh, the Word became human – the Word became one of us and lived among us.
As John points out, this word is a creative force. The Word creates life, and of course this alludes to the creation story we have in Genesis 1: and God said, Let there be light. And there was light. And God said, let there be earth and sky, sun, moon and stars, plants and animal life swarming the waters and filling the air and roaming the lands, and it was so. And God said, let us make humankind. And it so happened.
What was created in him was life, and the life was the light of all the people. And so we get back to the Christmas story as we know it: with life and light, with the birth at Bethlehem and the star shining brightly.
It’s all about God’s Word.
Do you happen to know what the ‘Word of the Year’ 2016 is? According to the Oxford dictionary, it’s ‘post-truth’. And, yes, the same term has been declared word of the year in Germany, ‘post-faktisch’. Considering what we went through in the political arena especially in this country this past year, the choice of this word shouldn’t come as a surprise.
And here is a definition of this word according to the Oxford dictionary. Post-truth is an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?
In other words, post-truth means that we don’t pay attention to facts as long as they don’t fit in with our opinions or beliefs. And what would be step two? Well, proclaim that our opinions or beliefs are the truth, even though there’s evidence they are not.
Post-truth leads to creating our own reality, and, to be blunt, to lying. And didn’t God say something about that in the Ten Commandments?
The danger of living in a post-truth era is obvious: if everyone creates their own reality and doesn’t give a hoot about what is going on around them, we are on a collision course. Parallel or individual realities just have to clash at some point if everybody just insists on their own perspective. And truth becomes relative, even irrelevant. It makes us doubt the concept of truth, and leads us ask cynically, just as Pilate did when Jesus was brought before him, ‘What is truth?’
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. Full of GRACE and TRUTH.
As those who are believers and followers of Christ -the word, the truth and the life – we have to beware of the words of this world, no matter, how popular they may be. And Christmas is a time to listen to the words God speaks to us, words that are loud and clear: Don’t be afraid. Good news of great joy. Salvation. Peace on earth and goodwill among all people. Grace. Life. Light.
The words we hear at Christmas time remind us that God has a plan for all of creation. And this plan is to reconcile humanity with God, and humanity with creation, and human beings with human beings. And God’s plan involves communication – for we cannot achieve reconciliation and peace if we don’t commune with God; if we don’t open our hearts to God to pour out all that grieves us and angers us and brings us joy – if we don’t open our hearts to let God’s words and God’s Word, the Word, fill it.
We cannot achieve reconciliation if we don’t talk to each other, and if we don’t listen to each other. We may not really live in individual realities, but we all bring different experiences of what it is like to live in the shared realities of this world. My experience may be very different from yours; and our experience is very different from, for example, the experience of a child exposed to constant violence, in places like Syria or Iraq or Nigeria. But we cannot declare our experience as the absolute truth and dismiss any other experience. As I said, all experiences are a part of a shared reality.
In order to remotely achieve peace on earth and goodwill among all people, as the heavenly host proclaim in the fields of Bethlehem, we need to share in each other’s experiences. We gotta talk to each other. We gotta listen to each other. We may not always agree, and sometimes someone else’s experience just is way beyond our comprehension – and our experience may be way beyond the comprehension of someone else. But we need to use God’s precious gift of words to make an effort to understand each other and look for ways to work together, to foster life. ‘All things were created through the Word, and what was created in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.’
Today we remember and celebrate how the Word became flesh, how Jesus Christ was born into this world that needs good news of great joy, that needs peace and goodwill, a world that longs for light in the darkness, a world that needs salvation, because it just cannot redeem itself, as history has shown very clearly. And it is one thing to hear all the words God speaks to us – and it is another to actually listen to them.
If we truly listen, God’s word becomes incarnate, becomes flesh – in how we speak, and in how we act. Great news of great joy, light, life, grace, peace on earth and goodwill, salvation, courage are not just inspirational messages we may find on a Hallmark card, but they are God’s plan, God’s truth, God’s vision for this world. Christmas is a time not only to romanticize a birth that happened roughly 2,000 years ago, it is also a time to take the Word of God to heart – and to give birth to it anew. This day and every day. Over and over again.
The Word of God is not just a fad, a glimpse of a certain point in human history – it is the word of eternity. It is the word of life and for life.