Monday, January 10, 2011

Christmas 2 Sermon: What's the Word?

John 1: 1-18

In the beginning was the word. Here at the beginning of another year, I'm thinking about this statement and what it means to us. This past year I went to a worship conference where Rob Bell was one of the featured speakers, and he used the 1-2 hours of time he was allotted during a very full schedule to speak to the 2 or 3 thousand of us about what we say in worship. What we say, what language we use, what names we have for God. Why does this matter? Because "in the beginning is the word." What we convey about God in this hour of worship patterns what we convey about God by what we say during the week, in our places of business, in our family gatherings, in our friends homes, and out in the streets. So, what do we mean when we say that Jesus Christ is the "Word made flesh?" This whole "prologue" to the narrative in John's gospel is as perplexing and mysterious as it is beautiful. In the words of the Old Interpreter's Bible commentary, "This author gives the impression of thinking much faster than he can speak or write; with the result that the reader's mind is overwhelmed by a ruche of staggering assertions, at each of which he would like to be given time to pause, and try to begin, at least to think this out; but none is allowed him and at once he is swept on and on. The whole thing has the effect more of a piece of lofty music than of literature. It stirs strange feelings and emotions in us that surge up out of the deeps. It creates an atmosphere in which one reads, awed and tense, and with held breath. We know that we are face to face with something august, tremendous, illimitable. But the impression left upon most readers' minds, one fancies, is indefinite and vague; a sense of something very big and very real, but indescribably, which will not go into words. This is a passage best to be understood by that additional faculty with which the mystics credit us, which sees much further than reason and intelligence, and knows much more accurately than they ever can; and yet it cannot tell others what it sees and experiences." Don't you think so? I've always loved the prologue to John, but the interpreter is right, it says something that is a bit foreign to us, but we sense is of ultimate importance. The "words" used to convey this deep truth about Jesus are beautiful and poignant, but are they understood--do they really have any meaning for us? I remember a line from one of my favorite movies, Donnie Darko, that brings up that many linguists throughout the past two centuries have declared that the most beautiful word in the English language is "cellar door." The character in the movie loves that assertion, because there is a certain amount of ridiculousness attached to the idea that something so technically beautiful should mean something so mundane and ordinary. Is the "Logos," the Word made flesh, merely a cellar door in our Christian vocabulary, or is there meaning for these ideas in our daily lives? In 1932, William Funk, of the dictionary Funk and Wagnalls came up with a list of the most beautiful words in his opinion--they were "dawn, mother, and lullaby." There's something more there for most of us, isn't there? Likewise, the light that's spoken of in the first chapter of John is not exactly as nebulous as the idea of the "word" but it is still a bit mysterious. Let me ask you this, when is this candle most effective? With all the lights on, or with all the lights off? That's why John speaks of a light coming into the world to dispel darkness. "The light that is Christ means something only when the attempt is made to dispel the prevailing darkness."
Likewise, the words we say only mean something if they are spoken with conviction and only if they mean "Good News" to the world around us. As the light dispels the darkness, the Word dispels desolation and chaos. In the creation story we said to each other in the call to worship, God speaks creation into being, God creates order out of chaos by uttering the creative Word, who is Christ

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