Fleshing the Word
The Birth of the Living Word
The traditional Christmas Eve service of nine lessons and carols concludes with John 1:14: "The Word became flesh and lived among us." (NSRV) Which declaration, seeing that it leads us away from the fun details of the crèche, like barnyard animals, hovering angels, and dreamy astrologers astride camels... well, let's just say it's easier to get excited about a newborn child than to digest the raw theological assumption of that baby's identity.
But, I confess, few verses move me, lift my plodding spirit, and strike bells ringing a glorious Noel, as does this one.
Maybe it's something genetic with me, this fascination with the word. In Mrs. Moore's kindergarten class, while Joe Bocchichio was painting big birds, Bobby Howard was printing words on 8 1/2 x 11 vellum. I wowed my eighth grade teacher, Miss Fitzmaurice, in an essay on Miles Standish by using a big word (a continuing fascination, big words, some of you have told me, is distracting!) to describe his Puritan stubbornness, adamantine. And now in retirement, when someone on the elliptical exerciser asks me what I do in my leisure time, I point them to this corner of the Internet filled as it is with words, lots of them.
On the other hand, my fascination (or failing!), this fondness for the word, might more simply be attributed to my humanity... and yours. In the most basic sense, the word is life, human life. Our bichon friese, Tappy, will go to twin Henry when I tell her to "Go to Henry"; although I suspect she heeds my words mainly in the expectation Henry has something for her to snack on in that bowl beside him. Chimpanzees have been taught hundreds of words. Sure, beasts sometimes participate in human communication; but, as with Tappy, it's probably tone not meaning to which she responds.
Language is the human condition, the connecting link from you to me and me to you, the means by which the wisdom (and the hate!) of the last generation is passed on to the next. Without it we would still be crawling around on all fours and foraging for food with and being the food for the other beasts.
Have you figured out yet where I am going with this? To Genesis 1, for one place. Where in verse 27 the Good Book claims "God created humankind in his image." Imago dei the scholars name it. Precisely what that is has been debated for the better part of two millennia. One conclusion, the best one, takes its clue from verse 3 of the same chapter: "Then God said..." The first statement to be made about God is that God is a God who speaks. God speaks and, voilá, the sun lights the day, the great whale swims in the South Pacific, and Adam and Eve tend the Garden of Eden.
To be made in God's likeness, in other words, means to be a wordy creature.
In this context I read the first two verses of John 1: "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." The Word is the power of creation. Among us too. The lives given to us at their birth, those tiny squirming things at mothers' breasts, babies, become human as we speak to them, coo over them, tell them how much we love them, read to them about Dick and Jane, help them take their first sounds, "Da-da" or "Ma-ma," and shape those sounds until they are transformed into "adamantine." I can, and will if you challenge me, cite studies at either end of life that suggest we hold on to life mostly as we are in strong relationship, communication?, with others. We live by the word from beginning to end.
Christmas celebrates the source and power of life itself coming in person to this despoiled garden once an Eden: "the Word became flesh and lived among us." To speak to us directly, his lips to our ears, what this whole busy, buzzing, broken affair (life) is all about. To try to straighten us out on that score. To restore eternity's purpose with time. To persuade us in our humanity, our wordy humanity, to love God and each other... which we do, if with hugs and kisses, gifts and self-giving, with words, three of which are the most cherished by you and me and the author of it all: I love you.