You probably know what it’s like to wake up in the darkness, in the middle of the night, shaken out of your sleep by a disturbing dream, perhaps a real nightmare. It’s a bit chaotic at first, but to calm yourself down you begin to think logically. You talk yourself through it, whether out loud or in your head. You speak words against the chaos and restore order to the night.
There is hardly anything about you more personal or powerful than your words. You found that out already at an early age, when you learned to assert your will against people much larger than yourself with even a single word: “No.” With words you’re able to express yourself, your ideas and identity, your wants and needs, your purpose and intentions.
Your words are the primary way that you share yourself with others and establish a relationship with others outside of yourself. But even within yourself, you give shape to your thoughts and feelings and make sense of them through words. You gather all the clutter of ideas that roam around inside your head into actual plans and possibilities. And as you express those proposals with words that you speak aloud or put into writing, you not only stake your place in the world, but you carve out your space and your purpose alongside or in competition with your neighbors.
There is a certain violence to that process, because your words and the you they reveal, the ideas and propositions they articulate, differ from others and challenge them. There is a risk involved, both to you and your neighbor, when you speak, because you do reveal yourself and make yourself vulnerable, but you also press your neighbor with your words to respond in some way: To agree or disagree, to do something, or to stop doing something.
Such communication can be dangerous, emotionally or otherwise, yet it is fundamental to being a human being, created in the Image of God to live in relationship with other people. For among the various ways that God has made you like Himself, there is this fact, that words are integral to who you are and how you relate to those around you and even far beyond.
Words are dangerous because they are powerful for good or ill. They have the potential to defend, to uphold, to strengthen and encourage, or to hurt and harm your neighbor. A simple word of kindness or praise, a compliment or thank you, can make your day, whereas a word of criticism or ridicule or mockery can leave your entire week in ruins.
For all their power and potential, though, your words are limited. Like you, they are finite, fallible, and subject to the curse of the fall into sin. They are not always honest, true, or correct. They do not always express what you intend, nor are they always understood even when you speak clearly and precisely. They are not always heeded, nor do they necessarily accomplish what you want. As often as you insist on your adamant “Yes” or “No,” others may oppose your words and your will with their own. At other times you run out of words and out of breath and are left speechless.
Not only that, but once you do speak, your words become separate from you and beyond your control. They take on a life of their own, one that you might not like or want to acknowledge. But once they leave your lips, once you hit send or post, there’s no getting your words back. Promises you can’t keep will only come back to bite you. The lies you tell, the angry words you hurl at your neighbors, the gossip that you spread, the confidence you break, or the foolish nonsense that you spew — it exposes your frailty and weaknesses, your sinfulness, and your encroaching death.
The Word of God is both alike and different from your words. It is by His Word that He identifies, reveals, and shares Himself with His creatures. He speaks, and by His speaking He establishes and enters into a relationship with you and all others outside of Himself. And His Word brings logic, order, structure, and beauty where there is otherwise chaos and confusion. It replaces foolishness and ignorance with knowledge and wisdom. It shines true Light into deep darkness.
But God’s Word is not limited, as your words are, for He Himself is not limited. His Word does and gives whatever He says. It never returns empty or fruitless but always accomplishes the purpose for which He speaks. And though it goes out from Him, His Word is never separate from Him. For the Word of God is both divine and personal; so is the Breath or Spirit by which God speaks, and which He breathes by the speaking of His Word. The Father speaks to you by His own Son, and He pours out the Spirit generously upon you through the same Son, Jesus Christ.
So it is that whatever God does, He does by His Word. And whatever the Father speaks, whatever Word He utters, it is very good. It is a Life-giving Word. It is a Word of divine Love. For the Father loves His Son, the Son loves His Father, and the Spirit of God is that same divine Love. Therefore, all that He says, and all that He does by His speaking, it is all for the sake of His Love.
From the beginning He creates, and by His Word all things come into being, for the sake of Love. You also exist to be loved by God. You are here for the sake of being loved and loving in return.
God’s creation is good because it is His creation. Whatever He speaks, He Himself has declared, it is very good. And yet, your experience of creation, and your experience of your own flesh, doesn’t seem very good, does it? There’s a frailty to it. Your body gets hurt. Your feelings get hurt. Your relationships are damaged. The whole world is falling apart, just like all of your stuff is falling apart. Sometimes more slowly, sometimes more quickly, but sooner or later it wears out.
If you look around at God’s good creation, and if you consider your own created flesh, all that you perceive is death. That is the dark word that sums up the fallenness of creation. There is this deep darkness, and so you cannot see the goodness that God intends. Nor does God’s Word sound all that good to you, in any case, because His Word speaks of a goodness that you have not known.
His Word brings order out of chaos, and so the chaos of your life is constrained and constricted by His Word. God speaks of things as they are to be, but you are not as you ought to be. So His Will presses upon you, and your own will presses back like a stubborn, self-centered toddler: “No!” “I don’t want to!” “It’s mine!” “He started it.” “She started it.” “The snake started it.”
This fallenness of the creation, such as you experience in the world and in your own flesh, does not originate with God but belongs to the separation of creation from His Word. The dying of your flesh is what you get when your flesh is separated from the Word of God. The dying of creation is what happens because the King and the Queen of creation did not receive and use the good gifts of God according to His Word but contrary to His Word.
When you speak words of hostility; when you speak words that do not build up but tear down; when you criticize and complain and grumble — all of that darkness and death flow, not from God, but from your fallen will. For God has given you a freedom to speak, and He does not force you. He has not made you to be a tape recorder or a digital recorder. He has created you to live and to speak in love, and real love requires real freedom. Such freedom means that you are able to speak and to assert your will even against the purposes of your Creator.
There are those words, therefore, which bring darkness and destruction into God’s good creation, into your life in the world, and into your neighbor’s life, as well. Yet, there is also still that Word who was in the beginning with God. That Word who is God. That Word by whom all things come into existence, apart from whom there is nothing. He is your Life, your Light, and your Salvation. For He shines in the darkness, and He restores creation to the good and gracious will of God.
The Word of God has entered into His creation and has become a part of it, in order to heal it from within. He has taken for Himself a genuine life in the flesh, even at its frailest and in its most finite conditions, as an Infant and in death. He has made Himself dependent on His own creatures. And by His Life in flesh and blood like yours, you see the goodness of God’s creation fully restored. For His truly human flesh, conceived and born of the Woman, is indeed the very Flesh of God.
So has the Word of God entered the darkness to shine His Light upon you, and to enlighten you with His Wisdom and His Spirit. That is how the early church identified the newly baptized. They were enlightened. They were given the Light of the radiance of God in the face of Jesus Christ. They were given the Light of His Righteousness by their Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.
So are you enlightened by your Holy Baptism, by the preaching of the Gospel, and by the eating and drinking of the Word made Flesh in His Supper. That is the true Christ Mass all year long.
The Word of God reveals God Himself and gives you God Himself. He has drawn near to you. He has become like you. He has entered into a relationship with you by the speaking of His Word.
He takes the first step of reconciliation, to draw you to Himself in peace, though you have been at enmity with Him and estranged from Him by your own rebellious sin and stubborn unbelief. The Father speaks to you by His Son, and the Son speaks His Life and Light and Love into the midst of your darkness and death. Thus it happens that God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, from the womb outward, even to the ends of the earth. All created things are made brand new by the conception and birth of God the Word in human flesh. Mankind has a new and better Adam. Creation has a new King, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God and of St. Mary.
He is the Word and Wisdom of God, but He does not simply instruct you with information. No, the enlightenment of the Word of God is the enlightenment of His Self-giving. That is to say, He gives to you His own divine, eternal Life through His Word of forgiveness and by the preaching of Himself into your body and your soul. And this extraordinary work He does by the foolishness of preaching, by the speaking of human words. Not thunder from heaven, but the words of men whom He calls into existence to testify concerning the Light, so that all might believe in Him
You can wonder why, but this is how God works. This is how He chooses to do things. As the Word becomes Flesh and dwells among us, so does He speak His Word through flesh and blood.
So does He serve you through those particular neighbors whom God has created and called and sent to speak the special Word of His Gospel, and to preach His Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of your sins. So it is that, by water with the Word and Spirit of God, He makes a new creation out of you. In Holy Baptism the One who is both true God and true Man, the divine Word with His own human Flesh, unites Himself to you, and you to Him, in both body and soul.
That is why death does not get to have you, even though it still feels like it does. It is true that your flesh will turn back into dirt. You’ll be worm food, or a maggot sack, as Dr. Luther liked to say. And yet, because God the Word has united Himself to you, death and dirt and worms and maggots cannot destroy you. They do not get to have the last word concerning you. The darkness cannot overcome you. For God has drawn near to dwell with you with His Light in the midst of your deep darkness. That is why they call Him Immanuel.
You know that God is with you in Christ Jesus. He is with you here in His own Flesh and Blood. He makes the Father known to you. This incarnate God, this only-begotten Son of God, He makes a new begetting of you by the preaching of His Word. Thus are you a son of God in Christ Jesus. And, as He draws near to you here and now, so does He bring you near to the Father in heaven. That is, not only do you know Him, but you actually abide with Him. For the One who has come from the bosom of the Father brings you in and with Himself to the bosom of His God and Father.
As you eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ here at His Altar, as you take His Flesh and Blood into your own body, you live and abide with the one true God. For in this Holy Sacrament, grace and truth are realized for you in Christ Jesus. You know creation as it is meant to be. You know the goodness of the Lord who loves you. And as you are enlightened by Him, so do you live in Him. So also are your words and your speaking enlightened by the Word and Spirit of God, that you might confess and call upon His Name and glorify His Holy Name in all that you say and do.
That is why and how we sing and rejoice this day. That is why and how we give to Him all thanks and praise. That is why you are here, and that is why and how your life in the world is meaningful and important. You bear in your own body, no less than St. Mary did, the same Word of God, the same Flesh and Blood, the same Jesus Christ. This is most certainly true, and it is very good.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.