Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Galatians 3:23-35; 4:4-7; John 1:1-18; Psalm 147:13-21
December 29, 2019
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. +
Recently, we went to a retirement party at a friend’s house. There were plates galore full of delicious foods and rooms full of interesting people. I walked onto the porch, where our host was quietly cooking beautiful red cherry tomatoes that were bubbling on the grill. I thanked him for inviting us, and he began to muse about cooking. “You know,” he said, “most people don’t see food for what it really is. There’s so much more than just shape. . . There’s color and taste and meaning.”
I smiled, because that was exactly what I had been thinking about words. Words are so much more than their shape; they too have taste—ways they make you feel; and color—they have shades of meaning.
Think about it. Words did not start out as lines scrawled on paper; they began as sounds, as reactions to something. Pick up a baby and you don’t have words—you have crying or laughter. You have recognition. Sounds like these became meaningful as they were used again and again in the same way.
Tens of thousands of years ago these sounds became pictures on a cave wall. These markings look inanimate, like something not alive, but that just isn’t the case. Every word we either write or speak today has an incredible history.
Some years ago, we had the privilege of visiting the caves of Rouffignac in France, where we saw actual Paleolithic cave drawings, some as old as 50,000 years. Imagine being one of those artists; imagine lighting a tiny flame and painting on the rockface, not knowing whether a saber-toothed tiger was lying in wait. Those pictures say something; they are like spoken words that show the way people lived, what they thought. Today we are no longer writing on a cave wall, but we too speak in a multitude of ways, not only by what we do, but by our expressions, by our movements. We too are words.
Which brings us to our reading from John. “In the beginning was the Word.”
And what was that Word? Lines scrawled upon a wall or a piece of paper? Thin strokes of ink, the letters joined together, as if they all needed to be with each other so that they could mean something?
“In the beginning was the Word.”
The Word is creation. It is not light or earth or stars or air; it is Genesis itself. Just as today we place letters side by side to make meaning, so in the beginning was the Word, something unique that can never be done or redone again—it never needs to be. This Word that John tells us about is Being itself.
It is itself the prologue to new life. So in the beginning was the Word; as John says, what came into being was life. The letters that make up the “Word”–whether you spell it “word” or “life” or “God” or “Spirit”–those letters mean more than twists and turns of a pen. Put them together and you have being, which is the light of us all.
So let’s continue to read. Along comes John . . . “a man sent from God. He came as a witness. . .” And, as we are reminded, John wasn’t the light—rather, he came carrying the light. He came to testify, to tell us about the light. The light that was unknown, misunderstood; the light that was not accepted for what it was. This was the light that traveled through the land shining on those who were sick or hungry, bringing hope to those who were grieving or in pain; this was the light that was taken to the top of a mountain and crucified.
As if that light could be put out.
As if the words we speak to one another vanish when we run out of breath. As if you ever forget a phrase like “I love you”. . . you remember more than the letters, more than the sound. Speaking to someone creates a living interaction, a connection. The words become life in themselves . . . you remember the person who said them, the tone of voice. Words are not just pencil scrawls . . . they are alive.
So words, in being alive, feed us in ways we probably don’t understand even now. To give you an example. The letters I have from my mother’s relatives who were living in great danger in Hungary in the 1930’s and 40’s—those letters are more than ink dabs on crumbling scraps of paper. These are my people; they really existed, and their words mean more to me than what they have actually written.
It is what John says: “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” But what does this mean for us? Remember what Paul says in Galatians: “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts.” With that spirit, we are more than we seem, more than this flesh and blood that hurts and bleeds, grows old . . . and dies.
Think about it. If we possess that spirit, then we are like John—called to testify, called to express that spirit in a multitude of ways. If we are more than flesh and bones, we have power—great power—to affect the lives of everyone around us, to affect the very ground we stand on.
To put it another way, when we come up for communion, we are taking more, much more than just a wafer made of flour and water. It is a promise that we too contain the light within us. When we are sent out through that door we carry more—much more than the prayers we have learned by heart or the Bible passages we know word for word. As John says, “we have all received grace upon grace.” We are carrying the Spirit. We are carrying the light that shows the way.
We are not only carrying the promise of a new beginning; we are that new beginning ourselves.
In His Holy Name. +