“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
These verses are what the Gospel writer used in place of the nativity stories of other Gospels. Instead of starting the story of the Son at his incarnation, the writer begins with… the beginning. (You know, “Start in the very beginning, the very best place to start”.) We tend to think of the Son as beginning with the birth of Jesus to Mary in a manger in Bethlehem. The point the writer is making is that the second person of the Trinity has always been present and active in the world.
Through the Son, all things came into being. And what was the Son called? The Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word is powerful. The Word creates life and light. But what does that have to do with us? Well, we may not be the Word, but according to a 2007 article in Scientific American, we, on average, use more than 15,000 words per day, that is, almost 5.5 million words spoken per year, per person. It does not matter if you think your total is far less. Chances are, you are still speaking hundreds of thousands of words per year. The question is, what do we create with our words? We have a choice to either create fear, hatred, resentment, shame, and isolation; or we can choose to create joy, community, hope, empowerment, encouragement, and love. I do not think that anyone speaks purely positive or negative words, but I want you to consider where you put your energy with your words. When you talk to your kids. Your partner. Your coworkers. Your neighbors. Strangers. Those who have power over you. Those over whom you have power. In the song, Speak Life (Eye On It, 2012), Christian recording artist TobyMac says:
we can turn our heart through the words we say.
Mountains crumble with every syllable.
Hope can live or die
So speak life, speak life
to the deadest darkest night
speak life, speak life
when the sun won’t shine and you don’t know why
look into the eyes of the broken hearted
watch them come alive as soon as you
speak love, you speak
you speak life…
Well, it’s crazy to imagine
words from my lips as the arms of compassion…
Lift your head a little higher
Spread the love like fire
Hope will fall like rain
When you speak life with the words you say
raise your thoughts a little higher
use your words to inspire
Joy will fall like rain when you speak life with the things you say.
Another way of looking at our own power in the world is to consider the words of theologian and writer Thomas Merton [A Prayer to God the Father on the Vigil of Pentecost, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 177-178]:
I beg you to keep me in this silence so that I may learn from it.
the word of your peace
and the word of your mercy
and the word of your gentleness to the world:
and that through me perhaps your word of peace may make itself heard
where it has not been possible for anyone to hear it for a long time…
Here I am.
In me the world is present, and you are present.
I am a link in the chain of light and of presence.
When you choose your words, remember that you are a link in the chain of light and of presence; without you, the chain is broken.
“What has come into being through him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
Plato is questionably quoted as saying “we can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light.” Whether Plato said it or not, this statement does give us something to ponder. According to our Gospel reading, life goes hand in hand with light. If we fear the light, we probably are not living our lives to our fullest potential. We probably are not using the gifts we are given. Fearing the light is tantamount to fearing life itself. Embrace the light, which is given through the Son, by embracing life, which is also given through the Son.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” The darkness did not disappear when light came into the world; it still exists. But it does not overcome the light.
Some people are taught that with enough faith, we won’t question the will of God. With enough light, there will be no darkness. This teaching leaves people who see darkness in themselves, or who are in a dark place in life, wondering if they have too little faith or do not trust God enough. These people may feel unworthy of love and light because they are not good enough to banish the darkness, worry, and fear. Worry, fear, and darkness are not signs of weakness of faith. Our Gospel today does not say that light banished the darkness, it said that darkness did not overcome the light. Hence, darkness still exists and it is okay to acknowledge that. I think J.K. Rowling got it right in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Harry, a 15 year old wizard, is confiding in his convicted-but-innocent “mass murderer” Godfather, Sirius. He says that he feels angry all the time and is seeing similarities between himself and the foe of all that is good, Lord Voldemort. Harry is afraid he is becoming evil. Sirius gives Harry a nugget of wisdom that we would all be better for embracing; “We’ve all got both light and darkness inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” “We’ve all got both light and darkness inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
But what is light?
The Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines light as,
a: something that makes vision possible
b: the sensation aroused by stimulation of the visual receptors
c: electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength that travels in a vacuum with a speed of 299,792,458 meters (about 186,000 miles) per second; specifically: such radiation that is visible to the human eye
Some of you science-minded people might get something out of definitions b and c, but I think I will stick with definition a: something that makes vision possible. Sounds simple enough, when there is light, we can see things. When there is not light, we cannot see things. The light that was created in the beginning, through the Word, gives us the ability to see what is around us. In the incarnation of the Word, we are able to truly see God. This had never happened in history. There were symbols of the presence of God. There was the voice of God, but to actually see God in a form that makes sense to us, that was new.
As our Gospel reading told us, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
So this new year, choose to speak life, embrace the light, and as you gaze on the infant Jesus in the manger, see God incarnate in the world.