A further reflection on words, based on a sermon preached at St George’s Preshute on the Second Sunday before Lent.
Those of us who follow the Church of England lectionary, hear once more the famous words of the beginning of John’s Gospel: The Word was made flesh and lived among us. It was not that long ago that we heard the same reading read on Christmas Eve, or Christmas morning, and many of us will associate these famous words about the Word becoming flesh indeed with Christmas celebrations.This time, we are encouraged to reflect on these words in the context of creation. We hear Paul saying about Jesus in his letter to the Colossians – also set for this day – that ‘he is the firstborn of all creation’ and ‘all things have been created through him and for him’. He who was before all things has come to earth to live in our time and space, confined by the restrictions of temporality we face ourselves day to day.
Following on from my previous reflection on the power of words, here I would like to briefly reflect on those two opposites: time and eternity, relating them to two probably less abstract opposites: words and deeds. And I would like to suggest that when the two meet: whether it’s time and eternity, or words and deeds, it is precisely then that we can see a glimpse of God.
I am sure that I am not the only person who doesn’t really like change. Of course, there are lots of things I would like to see differently, but when it comes down to it, I am a creature of habit and I don’t like the uncertainty that is inevitably bound up with change.
Why? One way of putting it is that when things change, one has to trust: you have to trust that promises that are made will become deeds that are done. To give a trivial example: when you start a new job, you probably sign a contract before your first day at work. In your contract, both you and your employer use words to make certain promises, but in some way there is no guarantee that it will work in the way it looks on paper. And so it is in many other cases too. When a couple gets married in Church, both bride and groom say that they will stay together ‘in health and in sickness’, ‘for richer, for poorer’, ‘till death us do part’. But, what these words really mean, you only find out through living them.
As life goes on, and who am I to suggest this, not having lived that much of it compared to many others, I suspect that the more we see words becoming real, and the more we ourselves can make our words become true, we learn to see that words are not just empty, but that they represent a truth that we can trust.
That is what then brings us to time and eternity, our mortal lives and God’s eternal presence. Through time we learn to see that God’s promise to us does not consist of just empty words, but is the Word made flesh. That is not to say that everything we wish and hope for happens, nor that our life necessarily gets easier as we get older, but it does mean that if we dare to live a truthful life, we see that also God’s word comes true.
Maybe, as we get older, it becomes easier to see our lives in the context of others, it becomes easier to place our temporal story in God’s eternal story. Using the same words, they obtain more meaning as we gain experience, and we become more able to match what we say by what we do and vice versa.
However, to do this, we have to continue to be truthful and faithful, both in what we say and what we do. We have to make sure that our words resonate God’s Word, and hence, following the example that Christ himself has put before us. That is the journey we are asked to make, that is the journey of faith. A journey we travel in each other’s company, in the presence of those who have gone before us, and, ultimately, in the everlasting presence of Christ, the Word made flesh.