Year A, B, C, Season of Christmas
Sunday Between January 2 and January 5
January 2, 2011
January 4, 2009
Edwards (Knox) United Church
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The Rev. Dr. George Hermanson
One of the issues of our time is the power of words to reveal and the power of words to hide. Harold Pinter, who died this Christmas eve, was a playwright who has influenced much of what we see in movies, on stage. “His plays were all about the dangers of speaking, in pubic or in private, and the danger of speaking. His characters use language as evasion, as defense, as weapons, but rarely to communicate what they mean.”1 He used silence and pauses to speak a truth deeper than the words.
This issue of the use of language comes out in such phrases, "can we trust the words of politicians." Even those who preach are under question about what they say. Our world is full of images that seek to manipulate our senses. Yet at the same time, we question all that is being said.
And still, we easily buy rhetoric that has interests other than what is good for us. Advertising can encourage us to engage in activity that commodifies us and make our world smaller. If you watched MadMen you will have seen how the world of advertising has formed us as consumers. Words and images are shaped to create a false sense of community.
We have seen how words and images have been used to break apart community. Words are used to maintain prejudices and set one part of the world against another part. Our world is full of tension and violence and words and images help maintain this reality. We see how words are used to maintain unjust ideas. The word different can reinforce our sense of tribalism and oppression.
Words can be used to justify selfishness. The phrase “self made man” says we deserve what we have. It hides the fact that none of us are self made. We come out of contexts, out of traditions, out of support systems. We are born into families, into cultures. We know this because the other phrase we use, “it is who you know that matters.”
These simple words and images create within a community either mistrust and/or a sense of entitlement. The "who you know" idea is both true and dangerous. It is true in the sense of, yes we live in a relational world and that is crucial for our living. It is dangerous in the sense we create us and them ideas and actions. The self made idea gives us a sense that we own what we have and destroys any sense of, we are in this together, and we would not be here without the help of strangers. It destroys any concept of thankfulness and gratitude.
Yet there is a truth that we are responsible for what we are given and gratitude must be acted out by us. We are responsible for our actions and need to work to share what we have.
Our reading from John speaks of a word becoming flesh. It speaks of a Word that does not manipulate or distort. It is about the flesh and blood reality of a Word that trusts people who have a will of their own.
Leonard Cohen sings that: "There is crack in everything. That is how the light gets in."2 He wrote that "he was completely hooked (as a kid) that the light really did stream forth. When something is said in a certain way it seems to embrace the cosmos. It’s not just my heart; every heart is involved. The loneliness dissolves, and you feel you are this aching creature in the midst of an aching cosmos, and that the aching is OK."3 This use of words is to invest oneself in the cosmos and to work for its healing.
I think in a similar way John was calling us to the foundation of all words, even in their imprecision and misuse. There is power and the question is to what power will we give ourselves to? Will we open ourselves to the light that slides in, a wisdom that comes with this light? Or will we give ourselves over to the spirit of our age? The spirit that closes over the cracks and says all there is is what is before us. The spirit that uses language to keep thought at bay, to keep deep experience of the divine at a distance.
The poetry of John affirms what the beginning of Genesis affirms - that the beauty of God seeks to be known in the flesh and blood of reality. We have just celebrated the feast of Christmas which affirms that it is within the cosmos that the incarnation of divinity happens. God is found here. That which is beyond is found in this moment and that moment, in that person, and in this event.
John is reminding us of the rabbinic answer to where is God? God is in life.
The religious task is to discern. In the words that fall upon our heads we seek to find within them that which helps us live with gratitude and with hope. We seek words that comfort and challenge. We need the word that calls us into care and justice of all.
John suggests that word has come and that word was in the beginning redeeming our world. God breaks through the cracks in the cosmos and Hallelujah is sung. It takes discernment to see the aim of God in all things. It takes practice and reflection.
This is the season that reminds us that light is breaking in. However, it takes a journey to see it. The coming of wisdom is not easily attained. We live in a time of fast food ideas yet the stories that sustain us are ones that remind us that wisdom takes time and commitment.
The story of the wise men tells us they spent time in preparation and study and even when they followed it took time. And the outcome surprised them. For as T.S. Eliot wrote they were no longer at ease in their old way of life. And did they come all that way "for a birth or a death?"4
John calls us to wonder. The light calls us to wonder. To encounter God in your life is an experience of wonder. This wonder makes us look at life in a new way, that it is full of beauty and hope. The light is vast, overcoming the darkness, like the moon in December. God is vast, and full of surprises. To encounter God is to discover who you are, and who you might yet become. When we see the light in the cosmos, we are changed. In the coming of wisdom we are offered a Word that is different from the words that hide. We are offered a different word for our journey through life. It is the Word that God will walk with us, as God shares the gifts of wisdom, imagination and love with us every step of the way.