john davies
notes from a small curate

updated regularly
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    John 1 - Finding the right Word

    Good Shepherd 24/12/2005 (Christmas Eve Midnight Communion Service)

    Hebrews 1.1-4, John 1.1-14

    One of the best things I like about Christmas is the re-runs of those classic comedies which never fail to raise a laugh because the comedians were just so good with words. Groucho Marx is one of my favourites, he's so quick:

    "I never forget a face," he said, "but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception."

    "One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I'll never know."

    "She got her good looks from her father. He's a plastic surgeon." [1]

    Some people have a way with words. We're not all like that. I wonder if you ever get lost for words? I do. That may surprise you, but it's true - that preachers can get lost for words, that pastors who ought to have a word to say to anyone in any given situation, can struggle to find the right word at the right time. I think we all do.

    When someone we know has just been bereaved, or made redundant, or had some other piece of bad news, we know that it'll be hard to find the right thing to say to them when we see them. That's normal. Or when something wonderful happens, which breaks through the mundane ordinariness of everyday life, like a marriage proposal or a birth, then too we might lose our tongue. The news is so wonderful we can't express our feelings about it very well. Perhaps that's why when we first meet a new tiny baby suddenly we start talking in 'aaaah's and 'ga-ga's and 'ooooh's.

    But we know that we should try to find the right words.

    If I love you, how do you know that, unless I tell you?
    If I love you, how do I know that, unless I tell you?
    It is when we speak out what is inside us that that thing becomes true.

    When we speak out what is inside us, our feelings, our thoughts, our instincts, come alive. When we speak out what is inside us, our words become flesh, as we - and those to whom we speak - discover who we are. When we speak out what is inside us, lights come on in our head and our heart - because we've found the right words, suddenly we know ourselves more clearly, and we know that those we're speaking to know us more clearly too.

    And so it is with God. Think back to the story of creation. It reminds us that God was unknown before the Word was spoken. God had to find a Word to speak out in order to be able to create a beginning. God said, 'let there be light'. And then - and only then - was there light.

    When I say 'I love you', then love exists, where before there was only an ambiguous silence. And when God said 'Let there be light', there was light, where before there was only a brooding darkness.

    God has always had to find the right Word to speak out so as to continue to create new beginnings right throughout time, today, and beyond.

    'The Word was with God, and the Word was God', writes John. And throughout time, God has been trying to get this Word across.

    And we know from the story of time which we call The Bible, that God has been searching since the beginning for the right Word to get across to us who God is.

    It has been a struggle - for God to find the right Word to describe God to us; and for us to hear and receive it.

    God never seems to weary of trying to get himself across, writes Frederick Buechner:

    Word after word he tries in search of the right word. When the Creation itself doesn't seem to say it right - sun, moon, stars, all of it - he tries flesh and blood.
    He tried saying it in Noah, but Noah was a drinking man. He tried saying it in Abraham, but Abraham was a little too Mesopotamian with all those wives and whiskers. He tried Moses, but Moses himself was trying too hard; tried David, but David was too pretty for his own good. Toward the end of his rope, God tried saying it in John the Baptist with his locusts and honey and hellfire preaching, and you get the feeling that John might almost have worked except that he lacked something small but crucial like a sense of the ridiculous or a balanced diet.

    But at this symbolic time, with the small lights of the stars breaking into the midnight darkness, we might allow ourselves to come here believing that the Word is close, that God's lips are bending close to our ears to utter it, and we might begin to open our ears to hear what that Word will be.

    For the Word to come alive to us we have to listen out for it. And when we hear it we expect to see it come alive in our lives. Just as our words have us in them - as they reveal our breath, our spirit, our power - so we expect that when God speaks his Word, that will demonstrate to us God's own breath, God's spirit, God's power.

    'The Word became flesh', John said.

    And on the cusp of Christmas morning, we begin to understand what flesh he means. In the flesh of a man in history God finally manages to say who God is and what being fully human is all about.

    In a life, and death, and new life, God's previously unspoken Word reaches us. Revealing to us God's breath, God's spirit, God's power.

    So here we are tonight, waiting for God's great Word to come to us again, listening closely for it, waiting for it to be revealed to us again in all its love and all its glory and all the wonderful healing it brings.

    Waiting for the Word to put on lights again in our head and our heart. Waiting for the Word to come to us to save us and show us the way towards being fully human.

    That word is Jesus - God's most perfect and most precious Word. Jesus - the Word become flesh.

    In his Christmas Address this year Rowan Williams wrote,

    There is something about Christianity that always pulls us back from imagining that everything will be all right if we can find the right things to say - because for God, the right thing to say at Christmas was the crying of a small child, beginning a life of risk and suffering. [3]

    As we leave here tonight to return to our lives of risk and suffering we can know that Word with us, helping us to know what it is to be more fully human. As the Archbishop continues,

    God shows us how, by his grace and in his Spirit, we can respond to the tormenting riddles of the world.

    In your coming for communion tonight you draw yourself near to the Word. May the Word come alive in your life afresh this Christmas.


    Sermon adapted from one first preached at St Gabriel's, Toxteth, on Christmas Eve 1997.
    [1] Groucho quotes from
    [2] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking
    [3] Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas Message to the Anglican Communion