Sermon Archives

Sunday, December 25, 2016
Christmas Day
The Reverend Vicki Hesse, Associate
The One Word

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Merry Christmas!

In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell examines unusual factors that contribute to high levels of success.[1] Why are most Canadian ice hockey players born in the first few months of a year? How did Bill Gates achieve his extreme wealth? How did The Beatles became one of the most successful musical acts in human history?

Throughout the book, Gladwell attributes success to the “10,000-hour rule.” Gladwell claims that the key to world-class expertise in any skill is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way for a total of around 10,000 hours. 

And, although this is a bit tangential, stick with me for a moment.  Did you know that…There are approx. 470,000 words in the English dictionary? A college-educated English speaker might have a vocabulary of 80,000 words? Typically, people have about 10,000 words in written and 5,000 words in common spoken vocabulary.[2] 

With all these words flying around, have we become world-class experts in their use? What are words for, I wonder?  Some say “as we speak, so we create.” Words matter.

Imagine….what if there were no nouns?[3] Would our world still be composed of distinct and separate things? What if our only language for describing the world was dance?  Would we constantly move around in conversation? What if there were no pronouns, would you and I cease to exist?

Consider a visit to the zoo.  The mother stops before an enclosure and points out the animal to her daughter.  “See the zebra? Zebra. Zebra. That is a Zebra.” The girl, puzzled, looks at the shape and says, “horse.” “No,” the mother replies, “not a horse. A zebra.” Slowly the girl repeats, “zebra.” Her mother replies, “Right! Now you have it, Zebra! See the stripes?”

And in that moment, words have changed their world. Before this, the world had only horses. Through this exchange, Zebras have been born. Words matter.

The Hebrew term for word is dabar, which actually means both word and deed.[4]  So, to say something is to do something.  Words have the power of creation and of discovery. Words and deeds enflesh our airy ideas that can dwell with us, and can change our reality. Words elicit responses that can never be unheard.  To say “I love you” Or “I forgive you” Or “I’m afraid of you,” To say these things, we create a new reality. Something that is hidden - is launched -  through speech into time and is given substance; is created; is made real.  

And how many times did God try to create a world of Love, Truth and Justice? How many times did God try get across to us? 

At least 10,000 times, word after word, God tried saying it to Noah, saying it to Abraham, saying it to Moses, saying it to David. And finally, toward the end of God’s rope, maybe the 9,999th time, God tried John the Baptist with his locusts and honey and hellfire preaching. And it almost worked. So God tried once more.  The exact Word of God - Jesus.

And in this flesh, Jesus, God finally manages to say what God is and what human is.  In this flesh, Jesus, God knows what it is like to be human and we know what God is like. In One Word, God’s own self – God’s everlasting commitment to and love for the whole world – took shape in and through an ordinary and finite human. In One Word, in Jesus, we see the human shape of God.

In One Word, God’s own self became flesh so that all who are flesh may know what it means to be God’s beloved children. So that all who are flesh may know God’s love for all of creation So that all who are flesh may also embody in word and in deed God’s world of Love, Truth and Justice.

What was hidden in the heart of God, with this One Word, was irreversibly released through speech into time and was given substance. And this is good news! Because out of all the possible 470,000 words, through this One Word, God reinvented, rebirthed and renewed all of creation and restored a fresh world for us and for those to come. Yes, we, too, are changed by this new Word.

For by God coming in the flesh and dwelling among us Shines in us a ray of light that previously we did not see, Sews in us a word of hope that previously could not grow, Surrounds us by a world of Love that previously we did not claim. Sustains us with the success of a beginner’s mind that cannot be achieved or earned but only lived with wonder.

And there are not enough words to express or embody that kind of grace upon grace upon grace. Except maybe one: Thanks.

Perhaps it takes 10,000 practices to make perfect, but in God’s One Word, perfection was made in the image of God, the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.

For in God’s One Word, we are made new every day. And as God’s own beloved children, we receive God’s promise to be with us into the New Year & all that might bring: through all our living and struggling and yearning and loving and dying. 

In God’s One Word, God promises, today, to be with us now and forever.  That is the heart and the promise of Christmas!

May we, today, embody the many words of the prophet Isaiah that announce peace and good news of God’s reign. And may all the ends of the earth see the salvation of God’s One Perfect Word in human shape.

Amen.

Merry Christmas!


[1] Inspired from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outliers_(book)

[2] Cited at http://highered.mheducation.com/sites/0073123587/student_view0/chapter3/...  On December 24, 2016

[3] Inspired by Kenneth Gergen, Swathmore College

http://www.swarthmore.edu/sites/default/files/assets/documents/kenneth-g...

[4] Inspired by Frederick Buechner essay “Word” at www.frederickbuechner.com, ~originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words