Thought for the week - 17 December 2023
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Thus begins the Gospel of John today and thus ends our Mass as well, when we hear it again in the context of the Last Gospel. And surely, we wonder to ourselves what the word was? Even the word ‘word’ seems too casual for us in a meaning that has creation inferred into and onto its character, so we use the word ‘logos’ instead, in an attempt to make this word distinct from all other words. It is a singular word, one word, not a narrative or a dialogue but a word that began everything. Surely, we wonder what the word was? And even if it is not a dialogue of words, we wonder how we are to respond to it, knowing that our words are in some way different to this Word.
What word could it be? The word ‘go’ is another word that has no dialogue but the response is physical, as in a race and even though the Word first spoken certainly has a character of creation, of beginning, I do not think that the Logos spoken was ‘go’, as though the Father was starting a race and shot a pistol as He said it. If we had to think what the Logos, the word was, I suggest that it could be ‘love’, which is not a word of command, or a race, or a word that is shouted, but an invitation to seek and to reciprocate, to challenge us to become more than ourselves, but also to comfort in times of distress without fear of it being used against us.
The Word made flesh, the distillation of the love of the eternal Father, is what we celebrate now, the birth of Jesus Christ, the living word that has come down to us from heaven and which has ascended back there again, taking the knowledge of our human condition back to the eternal heart of the Father. It’s a dynamic, spiritual interruption of God into the world. But this musing and philosophic yearning is interrupted by a very down to earth account of John the Baptist. And it is these two interruptions that make up today’s Gospel reading at Mass. The Baptist is saying the Lord is on his way.
Today the third Sunday of Advent is also called Gaudete Sunday from the Latin of the Introit to the Mass, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.” It is as if our preparation for Christmas is interrupted by this call to rejoice. We are told to rejoice and this call is repeated. This should grab our attention just as the interruptions about John the Baptist should grab our attention as they both can serve the same purpose. And rejoice we should, because the love of God is once more about to be made flesh, ‘love’ is to be not whispered, but proclaimed triumphantly around the cosmos as the whole creation awaits with eager longing this consummation of the desire of the Father to love His people and to bring us back to Him, and John the Baptist, this wild man, is here to announce this intention and he is a very strange man to bid us rejoice! And today we rejoice that there is more to this season that putting up decorations and doing the shopping, there is more to Christmas than eating and drinking too much, enjoyable though these things are!
But where does this call to rejoice lead us- into the wilderness where the Baptist speaks honestly about himself because he knows himself; there is no pretence. He speaks of the One who is to come whose sandals he is unworthy to untie. In order to rejoice in the Lord we must first encounter ourselves – and in the wilderness we first begin to formulate our response to the Word, we find our first faltering answer to divine love.
And our response is given a prototype in Isaiah- “He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn”; it is only when we begin to heal wounds and create justice that we can rejoice and reply to this love.
It is here that we meet those who have also come to search out the Baptist to be shown the Lord who is to come. We meet those Christians from various places around the world who are literally fleeing for their lives because they believe in Christ. We meet those broken by poverty and hunger. We meet those who have been abused by people who should have loved and cared for them. We meet the lonely and bereaved. And together, in our varying degrees of brokenness and suffering we rejoice. We rejoice because we encounter the Lord and in his presence everything else is transformed by love and we respond to the logos, to the word being made flesh not in voice, not in speech, but by replicating what God gave us – an action of love and redemption, we speak the Word first spoken most eloquently when we do what he did, when we make flesh the command to love each other. Rejoice! What is asked of us is love, not words.
“May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ“.