I give you my word.” I cannot think of another way of framing something to convey that one’s honor, integrity and perhaps even something about one’s very essence are on the line. Word is a dense and powerful term. It is considered to be so worldwide. Many Hindus, for example, think the universe was created and is sustained by the power of the Sanskrit word. Plato likewise considered the word (logos) as the ordering principle through whom the divine created the world. Philo, the ancient Jewish intellectual, imagined it as the rudder by which God steers the universe.
The Old Testament expresses the power of the word in wonderful ways. Words cause things to happen. In Genesis, God creates by the fiat of his word: “Let there be light.” Think also of Jacob acquiring from Isaac by deception the blessing that was meant for Esau. Once spoken, the word of blessing could not be revoked. Word was also used to mean God’s revelation and even God’s presence in a person’s life.
Given the depth and profundity of the term, it is no mystery that John begins his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Later we hear, “All things came to be through him.... What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race.” So far so good, even according to the world’s wisdom.
Then we hear the shocker: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” This is more than just a game-changer. Now what is impossible—the absolute union of Creator and creature, the eternal and the mortal—has been achieved; “for God, all things are possible” (Mt 19:26). Karl Rahner, S.J., once reflected on this: “Incomprehensible God, adventurer of love!” God as Word took on the ultimate adventure by entering time and becoming one of us.
With this in mind, the phrase “I give you my word” takes on a whole different dimension. Now it refers to more than God’s honor or integrity or even something of God’s very essence. The Word who created all things and is the light to all things is now dwelling within us. It is the gift of God himself.
When you think of the babe in Bethlehem, think also of the adventure from God’s point of view. God became utterly vulnerable in Jesus so that he might bring light to our darkness. And at what cost! Already John tells us that the incarnation of God is one of conflict between light and darkness, acceptance and rejection. And for us it marks the difference between becoming children of God and staying lost in the night. John tells us that those who came to believe in him saw “his glory…full of grace and truth...grace in place of grace.” And yet those in darkness “did not know him.” God’s Word challenges us to make life-altering choices.
John makes it clear that the message of Christmas is not only about the Word’s birth among us. It must also be about our birth in God. At Christmas we cannot remain at the crib, as amazing as this is. Christmas faith embraces the light, becomes infused by the light, lives the light. This divine light shines in our gentle love of neighbor. It shines in our prophetic defense of the marginalized, the powerless, the immigrant (“for you yourselves were once aliens,” Ex 22:21). It shines in the joy shared from knowing that we are utterly and irrevocably loved by a God willing to empty himself that we might have his indwelling Spirit and share his glory.
My Christmas prayer is that the divine Word that created us and enlightened us may now dwell powerfully within us. May it speak in and through us and fully manifest itself in our lives.