December 27, 2015
You know I love words. Always have. Long before I began writing sermons and newsletters, I loved the task of putting thoughts and feelings into language. Even before I became an English major in college and then an English teacher for my first career, I savored a well-constructed paragraph, a beautiful metaphor, a powerful sentence. Before I was able to read for myself, my mother read me Little Women, and I fell in love with the story. Alice in Wonderland. Cry, the Beloved Country. Huckleberry Finn. The Grapes of Wrath. To read these books is to visit parts of my soul.
So you can guess how the word-lover in me and the theologian in me feels about today’s Gospel reading: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word WAS God!” The Word was God! Love of words equals love of God!
But sometimes, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, words don’t cut it. There are simply no right words to say when someone loses a child or a spouse or a parent. There is no real possibility of explaining what it feels like to be forgiven when you don’t deserve it, or trusted by someone who matters to you. Who can really put words around a sunset over the ocean or the night sky in a dark woods? Sometimes words don’t cut it.
That doesn’t stop people from using them though. Every time I go to a public place—a coffee shop, an airport, a grocery store—I hear people yammering away on their cell phones about stupid things—about nothing really. And I wonder if the person on the other end of the line is thinking, “Why are we talking about this? It’s so dumb.” And I picture my parents’ eye-rolls when I was a teenager on the phone, and the final 5 mins. of every phone conversation was pretty much just, “You hang up first. No, you.”
Sometimes even a word-lover like me prefers silence, because there are no right words. Whether that’s due to sublime beauty or sheer terror or deep grief, sometimes what a moment calls for is wordlessness.
Perhaps that is what God was thinking when God sent Jesus, the Word, in the form of a pre-verbal baby at Christmas. God sent a Word that couldn’t speak any prophecies or preach any sermons, that could only wail and grunt. God sent a Word that required 24-7 attention and devotion—a Word of vulnerability and tenderness, a Word of hope to an embattled world, to the ruins of Jerusalem. God bared a little tiny arm that proclaimed profoundly all God wanted to say.
It’s not that in the Baby Jesus God speaks to the world for the first time. God has always been on speaking terms with us, even when the reverse wasn’t possible. “In the beginning was the Word….” It was a Word from God that set the planets spinning in their orbits and created the duck-billed platypus and the Venus flytrap. It was God’s Word that spoke to Moses from the burning bush and to Joseph in his dreams. It was God’s word that the prophets uttered over and over to the people who wandered away from God and from one another. God’s Word permeates all of history, all of life.
But people forgot to listen to the words, or they grew weary of them. And because people had grown deaf to the story of God’s enduring faithfulness and tenderness toward us, God told the story again, through a wordless baby. A love story that only the pitter-pat of beautiful little feet can tell. Jesus’ beautiful baby feet are not exactly like other human feet. Oh yeah, ten toes and all that, but these feet speak! They bring good news with them! They proclaim peace to the war-torn regions of the world, relief to those who feel oppressed, hope to those who worry and comfort to those who sit in darkness. Without a word, this Word is a Word for the World!
And it is a Word for you. A Word of God’s nearness not only to the global family, but also to whatever war rages inside of you, inside your family, your relationships, or your community. This is God’s Word and it’s so magnificent that no other words can speak adequately of it. It is a light that shines in the darkness, beyond any description of it.
Some of you may not be able to glimpse that light right now. It happens some years. Our nation is still reeling from a year filled with all manner of violence—the kind perpetrated by lawbreakers and by law-makers. Perhaps closer to home, there is an empty chair at your table that grieves you. Maybe you or someone you love is troubled or sick. Some of you may not feel the wonderment of Christmas at all. You may feel like you’re still stuck in Advent, still waiting. All the blue paraments have changed to white, but you are still yearning for the answer to your longing to arrive. You may even hear the angels sing, but it seems their harmonies are only for others, not for you. Just so many more words without meaning.
How do we talk about the joy of a baby coming into our midst to families who are mourning the death of their children? Or who have experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth? What do we say to people whose dreams have died, or whose hope is aborted? In the face of grief, we may find ourselves dumbstruck. We may be angry that God has allowed terrible things to happen. Maybe we utter the words we have to utter on such occasions to God, who surely knows what to do with them. Maybe we don’t speak a word. Maybe we hold hands and cry a little, as God must have done with Mary as she groaned with labor pains on Christmas Eve, or with Joseph, reeling with his new responsibilities.
Bear in mind that sometimes babies are late. The calendar may indicate that Jesus was due on Christmas Day, but perhaps this year you’re on a different schedule. Maybe it is not yet the fullness of time for some. Maybe this pregnancy will last a little longer. Maybe you will find the Word arriving on some Tues. afternoon in February. But eventually the Baby will come, as babies do. God keeps God’s promises, so hang onto the assurance that beautiful feet are on their way to you, bringing you good news of great joy. There will be a day when the ruins of your heart will break into song.
The presence of God has come, is coming, and will come again. There may be silence today, and that can be good and right and holy too. Eventually those little feet will come pattering toward you. The Word of God is a word of hope and of life and of grace. And if it’s just a whisper today, trust Isaiah’s assurance that there will be a day when we will again hear exuberant singing coming straight out of the ruins of Jerusalem. Yes, the Word is a Word for you. For unto you a Child is born. On you the light has shined. And all the cacophony of the universe cannot drown out this Word, the very heartbeat of God.
~Pastor Susan Schneider