Rev. Don Beyers, Rector of Christ Church
There is a children’s rhyme that I heard once when I was young: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” It is, as some of you may know, a line once taught to children as a way of ignoring the taunts and insults of other children. Although oft repeated, I question the truth of the line. In fact, I strongly disagree with it. While words may not break our bones, they can inflict deep and painful wounds upon people.
This has been made ever so clear in the age of the MeToo Movement and Black Lives Matter. We’ve heard in recent years of the violence inflicted upon women by some men’s offensive and derogatory language against them. Persons of colour suffer the violence of racial slurs and name calling, perpetuating centuries of oppression. Despite what we may like to believe, words can cause infinite harm and leave life-long wounds from which many never recover.
Yet words can also bring about great good and enrich our lives. Words reveal the inner beauty of ourselves and our stories. Words can cause wondrous things to be and give life to those in the darkest moments of despair. And it was, we learn this holy night, that the Word, Jesus Christ, came among us and gave us life. In the opening lines of the Gospel of John we read:
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Our Jewish ancestors knew well the power of the word. For the Jewish people, God spoke and all things came into being. With the breath of God’s mouth, life could spring up in even the most desolate of places. To this day, our Jewish brothers and sisters hold God’s Word as so sacred that they lay not a finger upon the scrolls on which it is written.
Even the ancient Greeks understood the power of the word. The word — logos in Greek — was the divine reason implicit in all of creation. The word was the very thing that gave order to our reality.
The writer of the Gospel of John draws from both the Jewish and Greek understanding of the word and identifies the Word as Jesus. Jesus is God’s Eternal Word spoken, the Word that gave life at the beginning of creation, the Word that gives life to all of God’s creation.
John reminds us that there is power in words. Words both reveal and make things known.
It was on Christmas, many years ago, that I learned the power of words. I was home from university for the Christmas holiday. It was the day before Christmas Eve and my father and I were seated at our dining room table. Like so many other young adults, I didn’t fully appreciate my father for who he was and what he did. And like so many young adults, I thought I knew more than my father. My time in university had seemingly confirmed my suspicions that I might be more enlightened than my father.
While we sat at the table, my father received a call from his work. A local truck driver at the time, my dad was frequently called upon by the dispatcher to collect and deliver shipments of Coca-Cola products. Although my father was to be off from work, the dispatcher pleaded with my father to deliver an urgent shipment to a city just a couple of hours away. For a reason unknown to us even to this day, my father put the phone on hold, looked at me and asked if I would like to go with him. To his utter shock and surprise I said yes. In awe, my father told the dispatcher he would deliver the shipment.
My father assured me the trip would be quick. “It will be just a few hours,” my father said, “and we will be home in time for bed.”
Now there is a small, but significant detail I forgot to mention when I began this story. My parents lived, and continue to do so, in the wonderful US State of Minnesota. Minnesota — how should I say it? — is not known for its balmy, calm winters. Instead, with a blink of an eye a sunny day can turn into a raging, terrifying blizzard. Little did my father or I know a snowstorm was quickly headed towards us. In a few hours our region of the state would be caught in one of the worst storms I can recall from my childhood.
As we journeyed to get my father’s semi-truck from the yard, it began to snow. My dad simply brushed off the light snow as something insignificant. It wasn’t until an hour later, after getting the trailer filled with Coca-Cola products, did my dad realize we were in for some serious trouble. Yet he assured me all would be well. It was just a little storm, he would say, nothing too serious.
My father’s assurances quickly came to an end when, while driving down the freeway in blinding snow, he yelled out to me “Can you see the road?” I knew we were in trouble! The blizzard was so fierce we could hardly see a metre in front of the truck.
Yet my father persisted, ever so slowly, with our trip and we made the best of the time we had and we shared words. We spoke with one another in a way we had never done before. For hours my dad and I shared words, telling the stories of years past. We revealed our innermost thoughts, our hopes and fears. We spoke about God, philosophy, and politics. For hours on end our words were about our lives and life. Over the course of that night, I got to know my dad and a new bond was formed between us, one that remains as strong today as it was that night. Our words revealed both who were were and gave life to a whole new relationship.
After several hours of fierce winds and heavy snow, the storm abated. My dad and I successfully made our journey and dropped off his truck at the yard. As we drove home, the sun rose above the snow-covered horizon and revealed one of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen in my life. It was Christmas Eve morning, nearly a whole day since we left. Yet as we passed the metre-high snow piles in my parents driveway and I crawled into my bed, I felt I received one of the greatest Christmas gifts ever. Nothing under our family tree could compare with the gift of that night.
Words, my friends, need not be used to destroy or wound us. Words can give us life. And it is the Living Word, Jesus Christ, who speaks to us today and continues to give us life.
Christmas is a reminder that all of us are called to testify, as John the Baptist did so long ago, to the life-giving grace of God in Jesus Christ. In Christ we experience life! In Christ we experience grace upon grace, the fullness of God’s love for us and our true beauty.
Our gospel reading tonight challenges us to consider our words wisely. We are called to proclaim words of hope and joy to all people, to reveal the Good News of Jesus Christ to all: that he came so that we may have life and have it to the full! Our words must echo that hope and freedom. Our words ought to build each other up and make us one again.
As we celebrate God’s Living Word, revealed and made known to us in Jesus Christ, this night, let us go out into the world speaking words of hope and life to all God’s people. For our words have power, power to make known God’s love for all and the power to bring life and light to even the darkest of places. Amen.