Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Power of the Word

First Sunday After Christmas – Year A
Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147:13-21; Galatians 3:23-35, 4:4-7; John 1:1-18
Sunday, December 30, 2007 – St. Alban’s, Westwood

Words are a powerful thing. Be they spoken or written, be they prose or poetry, words can carry incredible potency and potential. They can stir our thoughts and imaginations, prompt dreams and possibilities. They can evoke strong feelings and emotions, both positive and negative. They can be the motivation for action, both good and bad. They can create and they can destroy. They can influence our perception of the past and can shape our outlook on the future.

Virtually all of our communications, at least, any communications conveying complex ideas, generally require the use of words, either in spoken or written form. Think about the place of words in your life, on our collective life, and what influence words can have.

As we approach 2008, we move full speed ahead into an election year. Candidates are vying for the votes they will need to make them the next President of the United States. They do this through their words. They make speeches extolling their virtues and their experience which make them the right choice, or criticize and even vilify their opponents in an attempt to demonstrate why they are not the right choice. They engage in debates and interviews, where they present their positions on key issues, attempting to convince us that they will lead the country down the right path. And then we have to take all these words, figure out which ones resonate with our own personal political and social views, and make our choice for who we think will do the best job. So much hinge on these candidates’ words. Based on their words, we will make the choices that will lead this country down a good and noble path, or down a path of that could lead to trouble and turmoil, if not ruin and destruction. Either is a possibility. Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were elected based on their political rhetoric. But so was Adolf Hitler.

Many of the people in this congregation are or have been teachers or professors. They have used their mastery of the word, both spoken and written, to convey knowledge about their particular fields of expertise. Through their words, they have educated those under their tutelage. And they have inspired some students to go on to further their education in a particular field of study – students that may further contribute to research in that field and further expand society’s understanding of a particular subject.

Journalists, regardless of whether they work for newspapers, magazines, radio, or television, use their mastery of words to convey a broad array of information on a variety of subjects. Through their use of words, they inform us about what is going on in our own neighborhoods, across our country, and around the world. And, when dealing with controversial subjects (and what subject is not controversial these days?) they, through their careful choice of words, help shape public opinion and attempt to influence what we view as right and what we view as wrong.

Even in the church, in our worship services, words play an important part in our faith journeys and our relationship with God. Scripture and the words of our prayers attempt to convey the essence of our common faith. Preachers and pastors, through the careful crafting of their words, seek to inform people’s understanding of scripture, help them understand how sacred words written millennia ago are still relevant to our lives today, challenge their congregations to figure out what their faith means to them, and guide their parishioners as they travel along their respective spiritual journeys. And choirs sing anthems and lead us in hymns – words set to music, intended to convey the story of our faith and evoke an understanding and a personal, emotional response to the story that is not achieved through the mere spoken or written word.

The words we use and hear daily have great potential to influence and even change our lives – both personal and corporate – as well as our society and our environment. But we are just now beginning to understand the true power that words have on our lives and on our environment. Japanese physician and researcher Masaru Emoto has done extensive work on the affect that words, thoughts, feelings, and even music, have on physical reality. Dr. Emoto’s research is based on his extensive experimentation with frozen water crystals. He has discovered that crystals formed in frozen water reveal changes when specific, concentrated words or thoughts are directed toward them. When water samples are bombarded with negative or hateful words or thoughts, and the water is then frozen, the molecules form into amorphous blobs without any clear crystalline structure. But when water samples are bombarded with positive or loving words, and the water is then frozen, the molecules form into intricate, delicate, symmetrical, crystalline structures. Even such a simple word as “thank you” resulted in a remarkable transformation in the structure of water molecules. In one notable experiment, some lake water was examined and determined to have a dark, amorphous structure with no crystalline structure. After the chief priest of a local temple did a one-hour prayer practice over the lake, a new water sample was taken and frozen. The ugly, brownish blob of the former sample had become a clear, bright white, hexagonal crystal-within-a-crystal.

The implications of Dr. Emoto’s research are staggering. Our human bodies are made up of over 70 percent water. If water, the water inside our very bodies, is indeed responsive to words, the type of words we are exposed to, the type of words we ourselves use, can have an amazing impact on our own physical health. And that impact on our physical health cannot help but influence our mental, emotional, and even spiritual well-being. Not only that, but similarly, the Earth is about 70 percent water. Dr. Emoto’s research indicates that our words may not only affect our bodies, but our planet and its environment, as well. Words may indeed be more powerful than we had previously thought.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we hear of the most powerful word of all – the Word (with a capital W). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). We hear of the ultimate word from God, the word that was from before creation, the Word that is not just from God, but is God.

Throughout our history, God has been trying to get us to hear his Word. As Genesis tells us, creation came into being by the very act of God’s spoken word. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep . . . Then God said, ‘Let their be light’” (Gen. 1:1-2a,3a). God spoke in creation, and all that is came into being. But God’s word did not stop there. God continued to speak to His people. God called Abraham into covenant, to become a mighty nation. God spoke to Moses out of a burning bush and called him to lead His people to the Promised Land. God continued to speak through the Law at Sinai and through the prophets. Throughout scripture, “The Word means much more than simple speech; it is God in action: creating, revealing, and redeeming. It is the invisible God incarnated in action” (The Living Church, Dec. 31, 2007, 4).

At this time of year, we celebrate God’s ultimate action, the ultimate speaking of the Word, the giving of His Word to all humanity. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The Word took on human form to be among us, to live among us, to be one of us. The Word took on human form so that we might finally be able to truly hear the Word of God. Yes, the Word was spoken in creation, the Word was spoken to and through Abraham and Moses, through the Law and the Prophets. But we didn’t hear it, or at least we didn’t fully comprehend the message. So God had to take extreme measures, so that we would not just hear it, but experience it. God had to find some way to make his message alive for us. He had to make his Word alive, in a manner that we could see and hear and touch. The eternal Word had to become bounded by space and time, had to become bounded by human flesh. Only then could we hear the Word that has been spoken from before time and space began. And so, the Word became flesh in the form of Jesus, God’s only begotten Son. In the “Word made flesh,” Jesus embodies what God wants to say to us. In Jesus, God is saying “I love you.”

If Masaru Emoto’s research is correct, a simple kind word from a fellow human being can have a profound impact on our lives. A simple “thank you.” A simple “you matter.” How much more profound of an impact, then, does the Word from God, the Word made flesh, the eternal “I love you” that was spoken in the birth of Jesus, have?

This season we celebrate the coming of the Word made flesh, the Word that has potency and potential unlike any other word ever uttered, by human or by God. This Word has, and will continue to stir our thoughts and imaginations. This Word has, and will continue to prompt our dreams and possibilities. This Word does, and will continue to evoke strong feelings and emotions. This Word has been, and continues to be the motivation for action to do significant good in the world. This is the Word that continues to create, who gives new life. And because of this new life freely given, this Word shapes our outlook on the future.

The proclamation of the eternal Word in human form, the Word made flesh, was not proclaimed with a shout. The Word came in the form of a baby, born in a backwater town in a remote outpost of civilization. No, the Word coming in flesh as a baby is but a mere whisper – the tender, sweet whispering of the Beloved, to us, His beloveds. But the Word continues to be spoken. As the child grows into manhood, as he begins his public ministry, as he heals the sick, feeds the hungry, cares for the orphan and widow, proclaims the Good News, the Word grows in intensity, becomes clearer, takes on greater meaning. No, the Word would not become a shout until Christ’s death and resurrection, when the whisper of that baby’s birth would take on its full meaning, reveal its greatest significance. At that point, and only then, would God’s full message be revealed, would the eternal Word be known, would the Word made flesh have its greatest power – the Word spoken to all humanity, saying, “I love you above all else, and would do anything to save you and make you my own. Even if it means giving up my only son. Because you’re worthy of the gift of my Word. You are worth it. Every one of you is worth it.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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