Words have tremendous power, for good or for harm. I’ve seen a child on the playground reduced to a sobbing puddle of tears by the taunts and teasing of classmates, volunteers energized by inspiring words from a leader. Words have the power to create reality, which I suppose is why scripture pictures the whole of creation as the work of God’s word.
– Aaron J. Couch
In Pastor Couch’s words from a 2010 Homily Service essay, I hear the whispers of a question that has haunted me: What is the origin of the imagery of Jesus as the Word? Is it God-inspired brilliant truth or hubris on the part of humans who like to write and had visions? Who chose the image? Word, logos, light, grace, glory––all filled with expanses of mystery.
Connecting Jesus with spoken language that creates universes is almost too gigantic to entertain. Surely this is one reason we can count on it being true.
John 1:[1-9] 10-18In The Message, Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, John 1:10 reads like this: ‘‘He was in the world, and the world was there through him, and yet the world didn’t even notice.’’
And yet the world didn’t even notice. It’s an odd note to sound in the wake of a month-long celebration of the birth of Christ, but the reality is the world has noticed Christmas, while there is serious doubt as to whether it has noticed Christ.
Of course, that’s what the church’s witness has been about, ever since the day John the Baptist . . . pointed to Jesus as the Christ . . . Not many people got it then, and not many people get it now.
. . . [B]ecause it is so difficult to get people to see Jesus as the Christ of the scriptures, we in the church are tempted to make it easier for them by presenting a more visible and palatable savior. This is not a fault simply of liberals or conservatives, liturgicals or evangelicals, mainliners or megachurches; we are all guilty. We all try to present Christ in a way that is attractive to our niche of the culture. Though somewhat necessary, we must be careful not to bend Jesus out of shape, not to turn the Gospel into something it isn’t. This text is a reminder to us of the unlikeliness of the story of Jesus and of our call to tell it as it is, trusting God to use our telling to open eyes and change lives.
– Delmer L. Chilton
Telling the story “as it is” can take many forms. For the prophet Jeremiah the story is about God’s promise in the future to gather the people who have been estranged from one another in exile. When this gathering comes, the people “shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.”
Likewise, the epistle to the church identifies us, along with the church of Ephesus, as people who are alone and estranged and in need of adoption. We will be gathered up, God’s word says, along with “all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.
In these readings a spectacular consistency abounds: The word of God brings to all creation the joy of living according to a purpose that is beyond ourselves, beyond our ability to solve all ambiguities.
God is word and creator, savior and companion in the flesh.
Often, the word comes to us in words—the words of scripture that tell about Jesus’ teaching, and his command that we love each other. They picture for us his example of forgiveness and compassion, the stories of his ministry, healing the sick and feeding the hungry, how he suffered and died, and how God raised him to life on the third day. And the word still comes to us in the lives of believers who have an impact on us.
. . . Bill was a sponsor for the youth group; Ray, a professor who gave of himself, whether to usher or to paint the Sunday School rooms; Cole, the track coach at a rival high school, always had time to be interested in what I was doing. These adults, and others, gave me a glimpse of what a life of integrity looks like, what a Christ-like life looks like. Through them, the light of God’s love shone. It wasn’t that they were perfect people, . . . [b]ut their lives gave voice to God’s word, in the flesh.
– Aaron J. Couch
Aaron J. Couch is co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.
Delmer L. Chilton is assistant to the bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA in Atlanta, Georgia.
Homily Service 43, no. 1 (2010): 74-81.