The Power of Word

Sermon preached at St. Peter’s by-the-Sea on Sunday December 29, 2013 (Christmas 1A).  You can listen to the sermon here.

“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”  Rudyard Kipling.

ImageDespite the abundance of words we encounter on a daily bases – in television, radio, books, magazines, blogs, Facebook, tweets, the list goes on – despite this over saturation, words have overwhelming power.

Think about the phrase, “Merry Christmas.”  How many times have you heard and said these words in the last several days?  How many more times in the days to come?  For us as Christians, these words mean something.  These words embody for us the joy, hope, and holiness of the incarnation – of the Christ child coming into the world.  We do not say “Joyful Christmas,” “Holy Christmas,” or any other variation of words that convey the same understanding as “Merry Christmas.” That is because in a way this phrase has been canonized for us.  It has become so important for expressing what this season means that these words in themselves have become holy.  But, what happens when these words are taken and used for other things?

Sometimes when words are twisted, when the meaning is changed, they become even more powerful.  They can even attempt to erase the word’s original intent and meaning.  “Merry Christmas” is a phrase that has been taken over, not by Churches and faithful worshipers, but by commercialism.  See how the words “Merry” and “Christmas” change when used in a commercial advertisement. “Make Christmas more Merry. One day sale at fill-in-the-blank-department-store.”  Make Christmas merrier by purchasing more things, participating in the myth that we do not have enough – that our own personhood is defined by what we have.  The “Merry Christmas” uttered in shopping malls means something rather different than the “Merry Christmas” we are greeted with in this sacred space.

This morning in the prologue to John’s Gospel we hear of another word – we hear of the Word: The Word that was with God in the beginning; the Word through whom all things – the entirety of creation – was made; the Word that becomes flesh – Jesus the Christ.

We hear in this morning’s Gospel that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Eugene Peterson, in his biblical paraphrase The Message, writes that the Word, “moved into the neighborhood.”  The Word – the most powerful of all words – comes to be amongst us.  The Word comes to dwell with us not to destroy or punish, but to restore us to the light. To bring us back to the heart of what we have been called to – the Truth.  Theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez once suggested that the best contemporary understanding of “the Word became flesh” is “the Word became poor.” God becomes incarnate taking on the tangible, vulnerable, human form.  God comes among us to heal us, to bring light where there is darkness, to bring wholeness where there is brokenness.  That is what we celebrate this Christmastide, that is what the incarnation of our Lord and Savior is all about, the coming of the Word into our lives – into our neighborhood.

If we believe that the Word has indeed come to be among us, if we believe that the Word is saturated in own lives than we must be mindful of what we say and do.  In today’s Gospel, we not only hear about the Word, but we also hear of the one who prepares the way – John the Baptist.  Many say we are called to be Christ like, but what if we tried to be more like John.  We hear that John “came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.” This leaves me to wonder, what do I testify to? What does my life – my witness – lead others to believe in?  I wonder if you’ve ever asked yourself those same questions?

Throughout history people have used Christianity to point towards something other than Truth and Light.  Christianity has been used as a tool of violence.  It has been used as a justification for slavery, oppression of women and those seen as societal outcasts.  Throughout time – and still today – the Word is twisted and manipulated to suit political gains.  The light and truth of the Word is changed to bring darkness.  This incredibly powerful Word is used and abused to erase that which the Word came to achieve – light, peace, grace, and truth.  If we believe that God is in fact among us, if God is not some distant being, then we must pay attention – we must change our ways.  We can no longer ignore the light and presence of God, because it is too inconvenient or simply too disruptive to our daily lives.

This is the most central claim of the Christian faith.  God became one of us, that we might know God more fully.  That we might come to know and be transformed by God’s nature and God’s love.  As Athansius said – the divine becomes human, so that human can become divine.  Let that sink in for a moment.  The divine becomes human, so that human can become divine.  If that is not shocking and even scandalous, I don’t know what is.

So what does this mean for us? How do we come to know the Word? How do we come to recognize that which John testified to – the true light, which enlightens everyone, coming into the world? While many understand this season to be one of happiness and cheer, to truly understand light we must know darkness.  For if we do not know darkness do we really need the light of Christ?

Look at the story we heard just a few days ago.  An unwed, young women, gives birth to a child.  This birth is unlike anything she could have imagined.  Instead of being surrounded by family she is surrounded by animals.  Instead of being at her home, she is in a manger.  Mary and Joseph are alone, and for that night, they are homeless.  The story of Mary is one of shame.  This is not how things are supposed to work.  Yet God is born, a weak helpless child, to lift up the cast down, to raise up the lowly.

Where does your own brokenness lie?  What are the dark places of your life?  In this season of the incarnation we are invited to open our lives.  To receive the gift of God’s grace.  Do you hear that still small voice of God calling out to you?  Will you open your heart – your life – so the Word can dwell in you?

Now more than ever it is important to come together.  To be present in community, to hear the word of God as revealed in Holy Scripture, to be nourished with the Word and Sacrament.  When we do this we allow the spirit of God to penetrate our brokenness and make us whole.  It’s like reading a good book over an over again, it gets inside you, it becomes part of you, in a way that reading something once can never do.  When we come and participate in the regular life of this community – or any community of faith – we allow the Word to break us open and make us a new creation.  We become children of God.  And what better time of year to be children?

There is something magical about children on Christmas.  The joy and excitement, the unknowing of what is wrapped under the tree, the light and hope in their eyes.  That is because Christmas is all about children.  We hear in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, that with the coming of Christ we are now children of God.  We heard that “God sent his Son, born of a woman . . . so that we might receive adoption as children.” By welcoming and receiving the Word in our midst, the Word that is imbued in our very being, we too become children.  This Christmastide may we embrace our childhood in God, and if we are children than we are also heirs.  May we share in the childlike joy, hope, and excitement at the gifts we receive: Gifts of God’s grace, love, truth, and eternal joy.


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