[The Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 1-14, precede the homily.]
I don’t know about you, but we seem spend our day deluged by words. Checking my Facebook account alone keeps me awash in words, some wise, some less so. You can learn just about anything via a quick Google search. Then let’s not forget the conversations around home, work, and even the text messaging on our cellphones. Finally, just to feel a little old school, there’s still that old fashioned experience of getting a letter in the mail. (Yes, that’s right: an actual letter from somebody other than a credit card company that can’t wait to share that you are “pre-approved!”).
At the end of the day, you’ve been around more words than you think, as the words add up from the breakfast time perusal of the newspaper, that report that must be read by noon, the dozen emails that rolled in while you were trying to respond others, the status updates that pop up on FB, and then, last but not least, a chapter or two from the novel you’re reading just before going to sleep.
We get through the day with words swirling around us, dancing across the computer screen and swirling around our ears (provided you can get your ear buds to actually fit in your ears!). Awash in words, we start filtering out the ones that don’t seem that important. Often, we err by ignoring more words than we should, ironically becoming inattentive to the words around us, tuning out most of everything in the name of a rare moment of silence. We even hope we got through a day without hearing words that trouble us (and hopefully avoided saying words that trouble others). Words are plentiful, yet as the old saying goes, talk can be cheap….
In the midst of our world, the gospel of John yearns to be heard, telling his story of Jesus, the Word of God. Bringing John’s gospel out at Christmas time can be a hard sell, as he does not tell a story of Jesus being born with the “Christmas Pageant” of shepherds, kings, and angelic choirs floating above the manger. You read John’s gospel, and you think now here’s a guy who marches to the beat of a different drummer. (And not the one who goes “ra-rumpa-rum-pum”.)
John’s gospel opens with these words set up in the lofty clouds above. It’s not a straightforward story of Jesus being born. Instead, we get this philosophical take on Jesus as “the Word of God”, pre-existing before Creation itself, divinity taking on humanity and not just as if slipping into an acting role. Here, we are told Jesus became one of us, part of the limitations and the frailty, willfully accepting life as it is, including pain, suffering and even death.
When the Word becomes flesh, our English translations falter in saying that the Word “dwelled among us”. The Greek drives the point home much closer: “the Word became flesh and pitched its tent among us”. In other words, the Word digs in his heels in and lives in the midst of life as we know it. This is a Word that is right in the middle of the conversations we have with what it means to be human. John 1 pushes the envelope of the image we have of God as divinity aloof, off up in the clouds.
The faith of Christianity welcomes the hard questions we wrestle with: questions of life, death, and the meaning behind it. Life causes us to ask all manner of questions that make us weep or laugh. Some questions we keep close to the vest, confiding with only our closest of friends. And, quite frankly, we harbor a few questions that keep us up at night, wrestling with them late into the wee hours of the night.
Christianity claims that such questions find their dialogue partner in the form of Jesus, the Word made flesh. The gospel affirms that Jesus is to be found in the midst of those who harbor doubt within, those who grieve, those who hurt, those who are marginalized, and those who feel forgotten. Jesus is with us, each step of the way, because he walked our way through birth, life, and death already. The Word became flesh and lived with the same wonders and woes that we know firsthand.
May the Word be heard and known in your life. AMEN.