My undergraduate degree is in speech communication–words. And I know, it’s not a science degree, it’s not the most strenuous but I really enjoyed it. I studied the crafting of ideas, presenting and convincing, that how we think about or explain creates how one understands the world around us, how we understand new information. I also have just enough psychology, and more than enough life experience, to know that words others say to us and to ourselves are important and powerful. They can lift someone up or run as a chorus in your mind for years.
Words create worlds, in ourselves and around us and in our imaginations. Because you might be able to imagine the worlds that have been created words like “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore” or “There’s no crying in baseball.” And beginning matters, because they bring universes into mind. Like the holiday classic that “Marley was dead, to begin with,” the Marley’s if you prefer Gonzo’s telling of the story or the epic that begins “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Words matter.
It’s why it’s important that the Gospel of John begins with words we know, words we’ve heard before, begins with “in the beginning…” it opens our remembering of in the beginning when God began to create. It brings the remembering of chaos becoming ordered, and darkness and light having their time and place. It reminds us of the moment when God spoke, and from the words of God, the world was created.
In the beginning, words created. When God created the world there was a balance, an equity, a wholeness, a peace. A way of living in which all were able to thrive in abundance. When God gave the law to Moses and the Israelites wandering in the desert, they were words that were meant to create a community that looked out for the vulnerable, live in balance and wholeness and abundance with each other. Words were creating the world as God was calling it to be.
Of course, the world didn’t stay the way it was first created, we have seen it in the stories we have looked at over the last few months. We have seen leaders take advantage of people and the land. We have seen Communities give up hope in the middle of the wilderness. We have seen sons trick their father, kings rise and fall, nations fight and be conquered. Prophets called out, with word to recreate the world God had called them to.
The ancient world, the people of ancient Israel knew what darkness was. They had been conquered, occupied, exiled, returned, conquered anew. They moved on eggshells as a whole nation, understanding that if the leaders of Assyria, Babylon, Greece, now Rome decided, they could make things worse. There is a darkness of empire and occupation. And again, God called out through the prophets the hope and light in times of fear and uncertainty.
Because empire tells you who you are, who you are supposed to be, how you are supposed to function. What labor should look like, and how long and for how much. Empire tells you who is valuable who is expendable.
And I do think we can read empire into our world today. The empire of the -isms, tell us that some people are more worthy than others, more worthy of kindness, goodness, life, which has led to lynchings, internment camps, forced marches and reservations. The empire of patriarchy tells us that some people are more suited for power than others which has led to some acting as if they own women and girls and can buy and sell them. The empire of capitalism tells us that some people are more valuable than others which has left some being paid less than a living wage and having to work 3 or 4 jobs and some having more money than anyone could spend in 100 lifetimes. And the empire tells us that this is normal and ok and right and good. Empire has a view of the world. And it seems empire’s view of the world is one in which people are exploited, land is exploited, resources exploited for the benefit of few at the cost of the many, given to us in stories, news and films, in rules and laws. In words. the empire tells us again and again that it knows how the world works, that it is how the world works, that its systems and its powers and its structures is how the world works. The empire tells us that these are the beginning and ending of reality, the ultimate.
But, in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God and nothing came into being without the word. and the word was a light to everyone.
It wasn’t unusual in the ancient world to connect word, the divine, and the creation. Greek philosophers said that the universe is made up of the creative work of the divine. The Hebrew people found the divine in the world that created and the world that was given to them in law and grace and covenant. The word was an extension of the one who speaks. The word, according to the prophet Isaiah is eternal. Isaiah 40:8 “The grass withers and the wildflowers fade, but our God’s Word stands firm and forever.” The word is like God, eternal, unparishing, steadfast. The ancient world understood that in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God and nothing came into being without the word. That was something the ancient world would get on board with.
That is what makes verse 14 so… unexpected, shocking, dare I say a heretical for the time. The word became flesh–mortal, fallible, prone to injury and illness, always aging. Flesh that will fail us. The immortal and eternal became flesh and blood and would someday die, and that is not a thing that Gods do.
And yet, the word became flesh and lived among us. The word put on a body and moved into the neighbohood. The God, who with words created the world came to people to be a people to be in relationship with people. With us.
The ultimate reality is the word that made the world, that became flesh to reveal in real and tangible and flesh and blood the ways, the reality, the lived love of God. The world became flesh to be in relationship with us as close and as intimate as Jesus is at the heart, the chest of God.
And in that ultimate reality and in that relationship and in the love revealed in the word made flesh, a light shines in places where the empire tries to bring fear or anger or exploitation or scarcity or greed.
So, when empire tells you to fear, the word become flesh says fear not, there is good news of great joy. When the empire tells you to priorities some over the others, the word become flesh says the last will be first and the first will be last. When the empire tells you we cannot come together, that anger is the answer, the word become flesh says God so loved the world, so love your neighbor. When the empire says this is the best world can be, the word become flesh says I make all things new, I come to bring life abundant, I am the resurrection and life.
When the empire brings shadows, the word become flesh brings light.
And that becomes the invitation for those who follow the word become flesh, the Son of God, the Light of the world, grace and truth, God with us, Jesus. the invitation is to live in the ultimate reality of the God who made the world with love and abundance, grace and truth, balance and peace. We are invited to live in that reality, and not the one of the empire. We are invited to, along with Jesus, as individuals and as a church–as the body of Christ, we are invited to embody the reality of God among us–the God who loves and forgives, who gives and calls, who offers food and water, who brings hope when hope seems lost. We are called to carry Christ’s light into the world, wherever we go, to whoever is caught in the systems and the lies of the empire. We are called to use words and actions, revealing the empire is not the ultimate reality but that Word of God made flesh is the reality that lives within and near and among because the word made flesh, that is love, is grace, is abundant life came to be in relationship with us, to reveal the world as it is and as it should be, to be the light to the world. May that be your hope this Christmas season.