Christmas Day 1991

St Stephen Lewisham

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God"

So wrote St John as he tried to put down on paper the truth which he had himself both seen and handled, namely that Jesus Christ is True God of True God, "and was made man for us men and for our salvation".

When he chose "Word" to describe what had happened he had in mind the spoken rather then the written Word, I believe. In this he was following up the idea of the first writer this morning who wrote the Letter to the Hebrews. What he said you remember was, "at various times and in different ways God spoke to one ancestors through the prophets; but in our time he has spoken to us through his Son."

Now by one of those curious quirks of language nowadays the spoken word is regarded as something rather weak and insipid. "A man of words" is compared unfavourably with "a man of action". "Fine words butter no parsnips" someone says when a person has been boasting of what he is going to achieve. "Hard words break no bones" says someone else when they been told off and don't propose to take it too much notice of what has been said.

So to compare God incarnate to a word, and describe him as "the Word made flesh" is, so to speak to get him off to a very bad start in people's minds.

Of course that's true of a good many things when people can't be bothered to look at them closely. Try and read a book or a newspaper or the places a bus is going to when they're too far away to see them properly and you'll learn nothing worthwhile. Look at them more closely or wait until the bus is approachinmg and it may all become much more interesting. It may even be going where you want it to.

The same is true of the spoken word. To hear voices speaking when you're too far away, or hear them without trying to listen, and you'll understand nothing. Get closer, listen carefully, and you may well find they're talking about something really important and interesting.

Now another point. There's something permanent and unchangeable about the spoken word. Write something down on paper and you can to tear it up or burn it and nobody will be any the wiser. But say in someone's hearing "Marlene Robinson is a bore "or "Richard Roe is a liar" and you have created something permanent even if you later try and retract what you say. The probability is that someone who heard you say it in the first place isn't going to hear the retraction; or if they do they will wonder what lies behind it all.

So we can begin to see that the spoken word is something far more powerful than we first thought. Sound waves, as I am sure you know, travel outwards and continue to do so long after they have stopped being audible.

If our foolish words can do so much damage, just think what good the Word and Wisdom of God can achieve. But only to those who hear and listen to him.

Many people "turn a deaf ear" to the Word of God. There's not very much we can do about that and from the very earliest times the Church, following Jesus's advice, shook the dust of their feet and went and proclaimed the Word to someone else.

Then there have always been those who hear but do not listen. On the first Christmas Day it was only a tiny handful of people who heard the message of the angels or the baby crying in the manger.

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