December 25, 2014
What is a word? This is not a question we would normally ask ourselves because we take words for granted. When we use words to communicate with someone we assume that they will understand what we mean. But with today’s Gospel reading we must come to an understanding of what a word really is if we are to understand what St. John means when he tells us, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
So, what is a word? To answer this question let us begin by saying what it is not. A word is not just letters on a page. And it is not merely a sound coming from someone’s mouth. The written and spoken words that we use can only be understood if the person we are trying to communicate with speaks the same language. For instance, if English is your language then you know what I mean when I say the word ‘dog’. But if your language is Chinese, then the same word would be only a meaningless sound. The word ‘dog’ still means the same thing but without knowledge of the language it is unintelligible. From this we can see that a word is a sign that means something specific. Or as St. John of Damascus describes it: a word is “the messenger of intelligence.” Therefore we can say that words are interior concepts which come from our mind to convey knowledge to another person.
But what does this tell us about the Word of God? First of all, take notice of what we heard from the letter to the Hebrews, “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets.” After sin entered the world and man lost his original connection to God, which was really his ability to communicate directly with God, God did not leave mankind without hope. The letter to the Hebrews tells us that God was always trying to communicate to us through various prophets in order to bring mankind back to a correct knowledge of Himself. He did this because He originally created us to know and love Him. And out of God’s infinite love for us, He desired to bring us back to a proper knowledge and love of Him. But there was a problem because the messages of the prophets He sent could only bring us so far in our understanding of God; and why, because there was an infinite gap between the language of man and a complete knowledge of God. There is, however, one Word that can close that gap: the Infinite Word of God.
But there is a language barrier between God and ourselves. How could we, who are finite, possibly understand a direct message from the One who is Infinite? Because of the infinite gap between man’s word and the knowledge of God only the Infinite Word could bring God’s message to us. But, in order for the message to be intelligible, He first had to become Man. And that is the very reason that the Word became Flesh and dwelt amongst us. And if, as I said earlier, words are concepts which come from our mind to convey knowledge to another, then the Word that comes to us from God brings us true knowledge of God and bridges that infinite gap that came about through the sin of Adam.
But even when the Infinite Word became Flesh, He had to speak to us through our own limited and finite language. And that was simply insufficient for us to truly understand the message of salvation that He came to deliver. Therefore, He spoke to us not only in word, but in deed. And the culmination of all that He said and did among us is found in His ultimate action, which speaks louder than any human word: His Eternal Word spoken to us from the Cross.
God has spoken His saving Word to us and if we want to understand the message it contains then we must learn the language of the Cross. Because if we don’t learn this language, then this day, the day of the birth of our Lord, and every other festival of the Church becomes just meaningless noise. On this day, and every day, God is trying to communicate salvation to us through His eternal Word. But if we do not understand what it is that He is saying then the message will not be effective. If you want to receive this message and come to fully know and love God and receive that salvation He is offering then learn the language that He is speaking.
How, then, do we learn this language of the Cross? There are only three simple things we need to know to learn this language, although it does take a lifetime to master it: they are dying to self, loving God above all things, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. This is the language of the Cross; this is the language of the Word made Flesh who was born for us on Christmas Day.