Monday, January 19, 2015

The power of the Word

John 1:1-18, Christmas 2B, January 4, 2015

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.

Have you ever heard of a foreign word that simply cannot be translated? No matter how hard people try, something is always lost in translation. Consider the following:

The Indonesian word "jayus" means "a joke so poorly told and so unfunny that one cannot help but laugh."
The Scottish word "tartle" is "the act of hesitating while introducing someone because you've forgotten their name."
The Pascuense word "tingo" means "the act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them."
And of course, the German word made famous by Avenue Q: “schadenfreude,” which is "happiness at the misfortune of others,” or “people taking pleasure in your pain.”

Whenever anything is translated from one language to another, something is lost. Each language has its nuances and beauty. The general meaning of a passage can be transferred, but the alliteration, rhyme, and rhythm are lost. So also for the Bible. Hebrew and Greek are beautifully complicated, and their complete foreignness means that a lot is lost in translation. Consider these words from Fred Buechner about a powerful Hebrew word:

In Hebrew the term dabar means both "word" and "deed." Thus to say something is to do something. "I love you." "I hate you." "I forgive you." "I am afraid of you." Who knows what such words do, but whatever it is, it can never be undone. Something that lay hidden in the heart is irrevocably released through speech into time, is given substance and tossed like a stone into the pool of history, where the concentric rings lap out endlessly.
Words are power, essentially the power of creation. By my words I both discover and create who I am. By my words I elicit a word from you. Through our converse we create each other.
When God said, "Let there be light," there was light where before there was only darkness. When I say I love you, there is love where before there was only ambiguous silence. In a sense I do not love you first and then speak it, but only by speaking it give it reality.

In John’s Prologue, he poetically shares the powerful nature of the ultimate word, the Logos of God made flesh in Jesus. Jesus is fully God, yet distinct from God. Jesus was with God when God spoke the world into existence. Yet Jesus is bringing a new spiritual life into this world. Jesus is the light shining in the darkness, a bright light that brings hope to the multitudes.
Jesus is the Word made flesh, who came to live among us. From the beginning to the end of his earthly life, Jesus experienced the world that he created. At the same time, he prepares us for the world to come. Jesus is not just full of grace and truth, he is grace and truth. Jesus has given to us grace upon grace, gifts of forgiveness and new life that we can never repay. We know God because we have seen Jesus.

John uses quite poetic words, the depth of which is lost in translation. In his prologue, John alludes to many Old Testament stories and themes, not the least of which is creation. John shows us that Jesus is more than just a babe lying in a manger; Jesus is the Lord himself in the flesh. Jesus is this God that has been present throughout human history.

Maybe Fred Buechner can shed some light on this passage. He writes: 

"In the beginning was the Word," says John, meaning perhaps that before the beginning there was something like Silence: not the absence of sound, because there was no sound yet to be absent, but the absence of absence: nothing nothinged: everything. Then the Word. The Deed. The Beginning. The beginning in time of time. "The Word was with God, and the Word was God," says John. By uttering himself, God makes God heard and makes God hearers.
God never seems to weary of trying to get across to us. Word after word God tries in search of the right word. When the creation itself doesn't seem to say it right—sun, moon, stars, all of it—God tries flesh and blood.
God tried saying it in Noah, but Noah was a drinking man. God tried saying it in Abraham, but Abraham was a little too Mesopotamian with all those wives and whiskers. God 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.
So God tried once more. Jesus as the mot juste of God.

This God who has been active throughout the stories captured in the Old Testament is the same God who is present in Jesus Christ. This is made clear in verse 14, even though the true depth of this verse is lost in translation. The NRSV that we heard this morning states,And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” This is a perfectly good translation of the basic meaning of the text, yet we loose what John is alluding to.

For the verb “To dwell” also means “to spread a tent.” If you recall, when the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, and until the Temple was built, God came among them in the tabernacle. The tabernacle is the “portable dwelling place for the divine presence.” God dwelled in a tent, guiding the Israelites through the wilderness. Even after the Israelites settled back in Israel, God continued to be present in the holy tent of the tabernacle. 

So, John is saying that Jesus dwelled among us just as the Lord dwelled among the Israelites. Or put another way, Jesus tabernacled with us. But Jesus wasn’t a disembodied presence locked up in a tent. Jesus lived and breathed among us, revealing God to us in ways that God in the tabernacle could not.
Now, hear some final words from Fred Buechner:

"The word became flesh," John said, of all flesh this flesh. Jesus as the Word made flesh means take it or leave it: in this life, death, life, God finally manages to say what God is and what human is. It means: just as your words have you in them—your breath, spirit, power, hiddenness—so Jesus has God in him. (originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words)


No comments:

Post a Comment