In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are certain words and events that can turn your whole world sideways, that can change the way you see things. Words from your son, who calls you and says, “We’re getting married!” Words from your daughter, or your wife, who says, “I’m pregnant!” Words over the phone in the middle of the night, “There’s been an accident.” Words from your doctor who sits you down and says, “I’ve got bad news.” Words like those and a thousand others that can turn your world sideways, for good or ill, and change how you see everything.
We hear those words in the Scriptures, as well. Think of the words that Adam says when he sees Eve for the first time: “Finally, at last, this one is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Or the words of the angel to Mary, “Greetings, favored one; you’re pregnant, and you will give birth to the Son of God.” Or the words of Jesus to His disciples, that He will be betrayed and mocked and beaten and spit upon; that He will be killed and on the third day He will be raised from the dead. Or, on that third day, the words of those disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus walks beside them, though they do not recognize Him, and they say, “We had hoped that this Jesus of Nazareth would be the one to redeem Israel, but it’s now the third day since He died.” And Jesus’ words to them as He opened the Scriptures to them and then blessed, broke, and gave them bread.
Or consider the words of the twelve-year old Jesus to His parents when they find Him in the temple. They have been searching for Him for three or four days, and they finally find Him in the temple talking with the teachers of Israel. He is asking them questions, as a teacher does, and they are amazed at His wisdom and His answers. When Mary and Joseph find Him, they are beside themselves, dumbfounded. Finally, Mary speaks: “Child, why have you done this to us? We have been in pain, distressed, searching for you.” Maybe you can understand how Mary feels, if you’ve ever, even for a moment, thought that you’d lost a child. That sharp stab of fear that goes through you. But she was not prepared for what Jesus says to her: “Why were you searching for Me? Didn’t you know that it is necessary for Me to be among the things of My Father?” And He’s not talking about Joseph. Mary and Joseph do not understand the words that He speaks to them, but Mary gathers them together and keeps them in her mind and heart. And maybe everything comes flooding back after ten years. I don’t think she forgot any of it, but sometimes ten years can dull the edges of those memories. All the words of the angel, and of the shepherds, who said, “Let us go see this word which has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” The words of the magi from the east, who brought gifts and came to worship the newborn King. The strange words of blessing from Simeon and Anna. Maybe all those words come flooding back in that moment, and she keeps them all for many more years, until everything is turned upside down and life reverses death.
Sometimes it takes time to digest these significant words; it takes time to understand what they mean. As with Mary, so with Jesus’ disciples, who did not understand His predictions of death and resurrection, and were afraid to ask Him about it. And so with the two on the road to Emmaus, who did not even recognize Jesus when He spoke to them. And so with the women who went to the tomb on that first day of the week, expecting to find a dead body. All of the words of Jesus come into focus only after His resurrection. Then Mary sees what He means by saying that He must do the work of His Father. Then the disciples understand His words. Then the women see, when the angel says to them: “Don’t you remember how He said to you that He would suffer many things and be put to death and rise on the third day?” Then they remembered His words. In the resurrection, everything begins to come clear. When Peter and the apostles are in prison, an angel frees them and tells them, “Go and proclaim in the temple all the words of this Life.” Jesus is life, so His words give life. They begin to learn what St. Paul means when he says that the Word is not far from you; it is near you, in your mouth and in your heart, this word of faith that we proclaim. So that whoever confesses with the mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes in his heart that God raised Him from the dead, is saved. That faith comes by hearing, and true hearing is by the Word of Christ. St. Peter says the same thing: that this Word of Christ stands into eternity, this Word which we gospelled to you, proclaimed to you as good news. Christ is life, so living is living in Christ and His Word. That’s what Mary does, keeping all the words in her heart and mind. That’s what the apostles do, with the word in their hearts, words that come out in their mouths.
We don’t have a lot of patience for living in the words of Christ. We want easily digestible words, fast-moving words, words with pictures. We don’t have the time or the energy or the motivation to live in the words of Christ, to meditate on them, to keep them continually in our minds and hearts and ears. If we can’t get it the first time, if it takes a little work to hear and to keep, we would rather have our itching ears scratched. And we don’t want our children to have to work at it; we don’t want to give them the words in which they will live their entire lives. We want to learn it, pass it like a test, and move on. But there is no life outside these words. It is a daily, a weekly, a yearly cycle of the words of Christ feeding us, growing us, maturing us. The word of Christ is not a dead word, that just lies there waiting for us to do something with it. It is not a dead word that needs us to breathe life into it. The Word of Christ is a living and active word that does something to us; it—He—breathes life into us. No matter what words you heard last year; no matter what words you will in hear in 2015—whether good, bad, or otherwise—there is a single Word that stands firm throughout all the years and all the generations. Through cultures and languages and both tribulation and prosperity; the Word that comes to us in flesh, who then speaks to us in words spoken and written, He is the Life that has been raised from the dead, never to die again. So this year, let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly; let the cycle of Christ’s life in the Church Year and in the liturgy have its way with you. Let His Word dwell in you richly as you hear it, as you sing it, as you speak it to your children and to one another. This is the one Word that lasts, whether it gives us the words to rejoice together at good words; or whether it gives us the words to grieve together at difficult words. No matter what words you hear this year, let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, as it comes ever clearer in the light of the Resurrection.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/3/14