The Word and the Words Dec 25, 2010 20:16:35 GMT -5
Post by mary on Dec 25, 2010 20:16:35 GMT -5
The Word and the Words
We celebrate the birth of Christ today, but the main reading on Christmas day is the first chapter of John's Gospel. It may seem strange that we would be listening to a reading about God's Word coming into the world rather than hearing the familiar story of Jesus' birth in a manger.
We can begin to appreciate John's word about the Word by recalling one of the activities that engages most of us before Christmas. I am referring to buying and writing Christmas cards. Buying Christmas cards can be a real expense, especially if we have a lot of friends, relatives and acquaintances to whom we intend to send them. Not only do we have the cost of cards to consider, but we also have to take into account the cost of postage. As we review the names of persons on our Christmas list, we probably are going to send the more inexpensive cards to people whom we know but who are not close friends. We reserve the better cards, and the very best, as says the line from Hallmark, to closer and very close friends.
What does this have to do with the first chapter in John's gospel? Simply this! When John speaks about the word as coming from God, he is telling us that God cared enough to send the very best. God wanted to express exactly how he felt about us and realized not just any word would do. No, God wanted the one word that conveyed his passion for us, and therefore chose to send the Word. Jesus is God's special word, his Hallmark. There is nothing cheap about God.
If this alone were the message in John's gospel, we would have much to ponder and be thankful about. However, John tells us something very startling. He says: "All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be."
Let me make two observations on behalf of this startling statement:
1) All of us have come to be through the Word. This means that each of us is a word from and through the Word. And because we have come to be through the Word, we aren't cheap words or meaningless words. We get the impression from talking to people that many don't think much of themselves; they don't value who they are. Unfortunately, preachers in the pulpit and on TV often preach how sinful we are, but fail to remind us that we are fundamentally good words coming from the mouth of God. Today we are reminded who we are. We, too, are the hallmark of God.
God sent his word. He did not hide it. He sent it in order to lighten up our lives. Since we came to be through this Word, we too are sent to be light-bearing words to one another. We are not meant to be hidden away in the darkness. We are words, words of light, and our being is being sent! If we choose to hide ourselves, then we are denying our identity as words sent to illumine the darkness.
John's message to us is always timely because we frequently lose sight of who we are and what we are called to be. However, his message is particularly appropriate during this season of light. God has sent his Word, we too are words from God, God's hallmarks. We are reminded that he cared enough to send us the very best, and that is why we rejoice on Christmas Day.
To be a Christian means many things. It means among other things, that success must be counterbalanced with fecundity. It also means that there is no doing or making without an original receiving. It therefore also means that there is dependence in the vertical sense, and interdependence in the horizontal sense. Christmas is the true success story. It is not that of Lee Iacocca but that of the boy Jesus and his mother Mary.
The Christian success story is one of fecundity. It is the story of Jesus Christ himself. He tasted the defeat of death to the full and drank the bitter cup to the dregs. He lay the love of his father in our hands. He made us the stewards of his kingdom. Above all he made us the salespersons of his fecundity. He left us the simple message: the very best is always given.
Remember this touching Christmas story of a small boy who shyly presented himself to a department store clerk. "I would like to buy my mother a new blouse for Christmas," he said bravely. "Very nice," the clerk replied, "but first I shall have to know more about your mother. Tell me, is she short or tall?" "She is, she is...the small boy stuttered and stammered. But then it came out forcefully and clear: She is perfect, she is perfect! So the clerk wrapped a blouse size 34 for him. "Merry Christmas!"said the boy, as he tenderly handed over his Christmas present to his perfect mother. A few days later, the mother returned the perfect 34 blouse, and exchanged it for a size 52. We may not fit the perfect size. But we all bear the hallmark of God. We are all perfect for (at least) somebody. We too are sent to one another through God's Word, God's hallmark.
2) We are also reminded that the Word of God has generated and produced many other words that explain and concretize the one Word, Jesus Christ. Remember the English Christmas carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." It begins with the partridge in a pear tree, and continues with two turtle doves, three French hens, four calling birds, five golden rings, and so forth, till eleven pipers piping and twelve drummers drumming. The "Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England as a catechism song and code for young Catholics, at a time when the Catholics were not permitted to practice their faith openly (1558-1829). And so the partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ; the two turtle doves, the Old and New Testament; the three French hens, faith, hope and charity; the four calling birds are the four Gospels, and the twelve drummers drumming, the twelve points of belief in the Apostle's Creed. They are all related to the number one, to Jesus Christ, the Lord. They are all part of the many words the one Word has generated. They are all bridges that lead us back to the partridge in the pear tree.
They are also bridges that bring the Word of God into the present and translate it for our time and our mentality as illustrated by the story of Della and Jim.
In an O'Henry story, called, The Gift of the Magi, the recently married Della and James Young are young and poor. So poor that neither has enough to buy the other a proper Christmas gift. Weeks of saving have netted Della only $1.87 for her gift offering. There are, however, things they possess and in which the Youngs take great pride. One is Jim's gold watch, that has been his father's and his grandfather's. The other is Della's hair, which reaches below the knees and might be the envy of any beauty queen. Out of Della's overpowering love for Jim emerges her solution to the gift problem. She cuts off her hair and sells it to a dealer. With the $20 realized, she buys a platinum watch chain, an elegant replacement for the worn-out strap presently attached to her husband's watch. Jim comes home and with fitting ceremony the gift is made. Jim too is prepared, with a gaily wrapped present for Della. Jim's gift is an elaborate set of combs for which she had always yearned, just the right shade for her now vanished hair. Then the final discovery, Jim had sold his watch to pay for the present. But Della and Jim smiled contentedly. O'Henry concludes the story thus; "Two foolish children who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise, let it be said that of all who give gifts, these two are the wisest, of all who give and receive gifts, they are the wisest. They have grasped the meaning of the Word made flesh. They have converted it in deeds of love.