Friday, December 19, 2008

The Word Made Flesh

What does this mean to this language teacher, mother, reader, and blogger, to consider that the Creator of the universe, who uttered a word and spoke oceans and continents and species into existence, elected to become the Word made flesh and to dwell as a human being, as a brother in the flesh of a real body?

"Words, words, words," Shakespeare places into Hamlet's mouth, leaving him with a bitter aftertaste. At this time of year, language students can tell you that words listed in the back of a textbook chapter can be monotonous. Words flung across the kitchen during an unexpected moment of holiday cheerlessness are painful. So if words can hurt, annoy, bore, and wound us, why does God call Himself the Word made flesh?

Studying poetry involves appreciating the selection of the right word from among seemingly infinite possibilities for the purpose of aesthetic communication and the re-creation of experience translated into audible form. Our Creator, whose simple yet evocative poetry called us into being, decided to become a Word. During this last week of Advent, when the Body of Christ in the family of faith is called to contemplate the coming of Christ, I ask myself, what does the utterance of the Word, a God-man, mean to me?

When I teach words, my students trust me. There is an unsigned and unspoken contract between language learners and their teachers. Children are the purest sort, because they have not yet been introduced to the dictionary so they believe what we teach them. "Mommy" is a food, safety, heat, and comfort source. "Bananas" are filling and delicious. "No" often provokes stronger reactions than "yes." Like my children, my adult students trust me, and they believe that when I say that "pluma" means "pen" they can use that word with confidence without making fools of themselves. To trick them would be cruel.

To the Jewish people of Jesus' day, God's name was holy, in a reverence lost to my own culture. Saying God's name was too direct a communication of that awesome Being. For Christ to say "I AM" and refer to Himself as God was a very powerful, shocking, and terrifying word. Yet He claimed to be One with the Divine.

God came to us as a Word that we all could understand. He came as a little One, who didn't have words of his own yet. Baby Jesus curled up in the cows' feeding trough couldn't say even the powerful utterances of a one-year-old: Mary's little Boy couldn't ask her for "milky" or say "no" or "more". He came in as a God-baby with the cries and grunts of any other newborn.

He learned language from a pair of human beings who were His parents. In learning to understand and to communicate, He exemplified trust. Those humans around Him gave Him the language of their hearts so that His stories would make sense to all of us. Sometimes His words amazed, as when in His youth He taught the religious authorities. Other times, His words didn't come so easily, as when His dear friend Lazarus died and He crumpled into tears, like any of us might have done. Most of the time, He told stories to fishermen, and prostitutes, and the disabled, using words they'd understand, words relating to things that grow in the ground, things we all say and do, things we need for light and heat and food. His parables were simple, yet their value as stories lasts because they point us to our need for Him and His Word of peace.

But it wasn't until that Word put His money where His mouth was, and kept silent while He was accused of others' wrongs, that the Word claimed everlasting value. Jesus' words "It is finished" spoken from the cross are the words of peace that take my sin and shame, package them up, and carry them to hell so that the real me is free. This Christmas, as we lean in under the tree to place the baby in the manger, may we remember that when He gave His word at the creation of the world to love humankind, He was really giving the Word of His own life, to preserve our life and to make us His. Whatever words you may think, or say, or learn between now and Christmas, may the Word be in your heart and bless you abundantly.

En la paz de Cristo,

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