John 1.1-14, Proverbs 8.1, 22-31
I wonder what Jasper’s first words were. Can you remember? A wise midwife once told me to make sure my children’s first word was “Daddy”, so that that was what they would call out in the middle of the night…
It is exciting for parents when their children start to talk, whatever they say. Those early words are an important clue to their personalities, to their likes and dislikes, to what they are thinking. Actions matter too, of course, but words help to explain those actions. I know that Jasper is chattering away very well now, and that means you are getting to know him in a different way. If children aren’t able to communicate for some reason, it can be intensely frustrating for them. Not being able to talk, whatever age you are, can make you feel isolated. It’s much harder for people to know you if you can’t express yourself. Words matter.
Our Gospel reading today had a lot to say about words, or rather about the Word. It’s a reading we are more used to hearing at Christmas: it’s traditionally the final reading at Carol services, and it’s read at Midnight Mass too. That’s because it is John’s account of the coming of Jesus into the world. He doesn’t give us stories of shepherds and angels, or wise men and stars. He launches straight in with a piece of poetic theology in an attempt to capture what this man Jesus meant to those who had lived alongside him.
And John describes Jesus first and foremost as God’s Word. As I’ve said, words are ways of expressing ourselves, so John is telling us that Jesus was God’s expression of himself. In what he said and did, he showed what God was like, what mattered to him, what he cared about. John is saying here, “if you want to know God, look at Jesus – the word that sums him up.”
It is an extraordinarily powerful thing to say, especially as actually, there wasn’t anything very obviously special about Jesus. He wasn’t some kind of superhero, just a first Century Palestinian Jew from an artisan family in an ordinary village. There was no halo. There were no choirs of angels or processions of trumpets going before him. But John seems very convinced that God was speaking very powerfully through Jesus, and he gets that certainty from the fact that he was drawing on the stories of those who had been Jesus’ first followers, those who had lived alongside him and travelled with him. We don’t think John knew Jesus himself, but he would have had contact with those who had known him, and they could testify to the fact that knowing Jesus had transformed their lives. Many of them went on to face persecution and death because of their determination to live out and pass on the message they had learned from Jesus, so we can see how deep an impact he’d on them. You don’t take those risks for something you aren’t convinced of. In this flesh and blood, vulnerable human being, they’d had seen a love that they had never imagined, an acceptance which healed them. They had been drawn together into a community where it didn’t matter whether you were rich or poor, male or female, what you had done, or who you were – you belonged. They’d had a glimpse of the divine, something utterly beyond them, and they knew it. They didn’t understand it and they couldn’t explain it. But they knew it.
In Jesus they had seen God’s priorities – the priorities expressed in the Old Testament – lived out. There was a passion for justice, loving care and respect for those whom life had trodden down. That’s what brought Jesus into conflict with the authorities and got him crucified. In an age when might was right a Word that spoke out for the voiceless – the poor, the disabled, the outcast – wasn’t going to be one that those in power would want to hear.
So here was God, they felt, embodied in human form. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
And the first reading we heard, from the book of Proverbs, essentially says the same thing in a slightly different way. It introduces us to Wisdom, personified as a woman, present with God from the beginning, sharing in his work of creation, present among human beings, close to them - “delighting in the human race”. God isn’t sitting on a cloud in the sky looking down on the world with disapproving judgement, says Lady Wisdom. He, and she, are right there in the thick of the world, rejoicing in it.
Now, all this is very well – lovely images, beautiful words – but what has it got to do with Jasper and his family today? What has it got to do with the rest of us, come to that?
It is this.
The God who spoke through Lady Wisdom, the God who spoke through Jesus, the Word made flesh, has not fallen silent now. He still speaks. A medieval mystical writer called Meister Eckhart once said “All creatures are words of God.”* Each of our lives can speak of God, passing on something of his love to others if we let that happen. “To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,” said John. Translated into plain English that means, if we want to be a part of what God is doing we can be. We can live as part of God’s family. We can show his family likeness in the things we do. When we love others, when we speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, as Jesus did, we are being words of God to the world.
Today, as we bring Jasper for baptism, we are asking not just that God would bless him, but that through him God would bless us too. That he will be God’s word, that his life will count for something and make a difference.
To do that, though, he is going to need all the support he can get, so that his life can speak loud and clear of love and justice. He needs people to talk to him in order for him to learn to speak in the ordinary sense, people to tell him stories and read him books, talk to him about the world around him and build up his vocabulary. He also needs to hear the words of God before he can be a word of God himself. That involves all of us playing our part – his parents, his godparents, his family and friends, and the church too. We need to make sure he hears that he is loved and welcomed, so he can grow up to love and welcome others. He needs to hear that what he does matters, so he can grow up to act with integrity. He needs to hear that when he gets things wrong it isn’t the end of the world, that he can be forgiven, so he can learn to forgive others too.
The Bible says that Jesus was, supremely, God’s Word to us, but it also says that each of us is a word that speaks loud and clear too. Let us pray that the story our lives tell is one that helps Jasper and all God’s children to grow as they should.
*German sermons DW53