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Essay

The Beauty and Multiplicity of the Word

By December 23, 2011 No Comments
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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with 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.
(John 1:1-5)

John’s Gospel begins with a linguistically beautiful depiction of the Incarnation:

the eternal logos, entered into human history;

the creative power of God, born into humanity through the creative processes of a woman’s body;

the one truly spiritual human being, whose Spirit gives us new birth;

the full radiance of life and light, met with death and darkness.

Scripture is laced with the poetic paradoxes of the triune God (revealed to us definitively in the Incarnate One). The prophet Isaiah tell us that God turns mourning into dancing, deserts into lush fields, valleys into mountains. The foreigner Ruth becomes ancestor of the Messiah. An unwed, pregnant, peasant teenager becomes mother of the Most High.

This God is beyond human comprehension, and yet we know this God, precisely because the Word became flesh. This Word reveals true God to us. The true God comes to us in our darkness and deadness, refusing to let that take us down. As Karl Barth put it, God is the one who always throws a bridge over a chasm; the one who refuses to be God without us. And so he comes to us; he has come to us; he will come to us.

The Word has spoken to us; continues to speak to us; and, will speak to us. Ironically and tragically, at this time of year, it may be more difficult to hear this Word, to see this Light, as we are bombarded by a cacophony of carols, Christmas letters, endless advertisements, and way too many blinking lights.

It is precisely in times like these that God’s continuing gracious accommodation to our finitude enables us to hear the Word in its many forms:

Through the written word of God in scripture that illuminates the love of God. It is a word that points to the Word; a light reflects the Light of God in Jesus Christ.

Through the proclaimed word of God, drawn from the written word of God and brought to life by the Spirit.

Through the embodied word of God, enacted in the communal practices of the body of Christ. For this body is the form in which Jesus exists in the here-and-now.

Through the word of God that is not bound to the church. This word is spoken in theories and practices arising from outside the church, theories and practices that reflect the light of the Light, perhaps unwittingly or unintentionally but nevertheless truly.

Through these forms of the word of God through which we hear and see the Incarnate Word of God, we are given new life. We are given the spiritual medicine that we need in our common humanity and in our personal particularity. We receive hope if we are shrouded in darkness. We are chastened if we are so satisfied that we forget our need to be upheld by this Word. We are given rest if we are weary, forgiveness if we are guilty (and we all are), and most of all a new identity as beloved children of God born of the Word and Spirit.

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