Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the United States, was known as being a man of few words. He was so tight-lipped that he became known as “Silent Cal.” One evening, while at a formal dinner, he was seated next to a bouncy, talkative woman. During dinner she tried to coax a conversation out of the president. She said, “Mr President, I have made a bet that I can get more than two words out of you this evening.”
Mr. Coolidge, simply replied, “You lose.”
While Calvin Coolidge was a man of few words, our Scriptures tell us that our God is a god of many words. I did a quick, cursory search of the Scriptures to see how many times God speaks and discovered no less than 1,466 times in 989 verses.
Today we may worry if someone claims to hear the word of God, but during biblical times it was considered a reasonable proposition that God could speak and it was believed that God commonly did, especially through prophets.
So high was the expectation and importance of God’s speaking, that just the simple term word is a significant theological term in the Bible. For instance, in the Old Testament, the Hebrew dabar means not just word, or something spoken--its meaning is far richer and more. In fact, the noun is translated 85 different ways in the King James Version of the Bible alone.
It basically means what God says as well as what God does. In other words, when God speaks, God acts.
In the New Testament the most important translation for word is logos. It, too, has a nuanced meaning. It not only means word, but it also means thought, idea, reason. Logos is the basis of our word logical.
All of this seems to come to a head when we hear John sing of the Word of God. Our Gospel reading today re-presents the creation story with the Word, the Logos, the logical and full plan of God, active and creating with God. This Word is eternal. This Word is ever-present. This Word was God.
Then, amazingly, we are told this Word “became flesh and lived among us.”
Perhaps a bit of a paraphrase is warranted hereto emphasize how amazing and miraculous this idea is. The very idea, plan and goal of God took on and dressed in our skin and was made one of us. This Word pitched its tent and lived among, beside, between, within, alongside and together with us.
Now, pause for a moment a consider the gravity of that statement:
God . . .
God . . .
God the almighty, everliving, ever-present ruler of the universe took on our flesh and blood and lived among us as one of us. This is, in all truth, an impossible concept to grasp. We could use theological terms speaking of Incarnation, the Godhead, Atonement or Revelation. We could use in philosophical terms like ontology, or infinity or simply explore what we mean by the term God. None of these would be able to explain the mystery of the Word made flesh.
We could turn to poetry and prose. John, himself, has offered us some amazingly beautiful verses this morning trying to capture this mystery. So have such writers as Dylan Thomas, Emily Dickinson, D.H. Lawrence, William Blake and many, many other have tried to express the mystery of the Word made flesh.
Through thousands of years, there have been countless attempts at making this profound mystery conceivable to us. These efforts have enriched our lives and have become part of our humanities in art, literature, theology, philosophy, and ethics. But still, we cannot comprehend the mystery of the Word made flesh.
It seems to me that is the lesson John wants us to know we will never comprehend this mystery. There are things in life that we will never be able to explain.
In my experience, these things are the most precious and valuable things in our lives. There are mysteries in life that cannot be explained but nevertheless must be embraced. We do not understand love though we embrace it when it comes to us. We do not understand mercy but we embrace it when it comes to us. We do not understand God but we are called to embrace God when God comes to us.
John tells us that in Jesus, the eternal Holy One, the One whose name cannot be spoken, came to us, came right down to and among us. How can we as finite creatures grasp the infinite? We cannot. But we can embrace it and find ourselves within it.
The Word came not only to occupy the flesh of Jesus, the Word came so that God could occupy us as well. God has embraced us, we are called, beckoned, invited to embrace God. We are not called to fully understand or to comprehend the mystery of the Word made flesh. We are only called to embrace it.
© 2020, Tom Thoeni