The Word is not a Book- reflection for Service of Lessons and Carols, 24 December 2017

The Prologue to John’s Gospel is one of my favourite Bible passages. Normally, it’s the stories I enjoy most. But this most mysterious of passages is the one which puts the stories into context. For this is how we make sense of the Christmas story, how we make sense of all the stories of the Bible, how we make sense of Christ:

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’.

The word we translate as ‘word’ is logos in Greek. It’s almost untranslatable, for it means more than just the ‘word’. It suggest something living, a person, someone who is the personification of God’s message to us. It suggests that our God is not a distant god who wound up creation like a clockwork train and then left it to run. It suggests that our God is a god who has something to say to us. Our God has a Word for his creation. Our God wants to be in relationship with all his creatures, wants to communicate with us.

But one of the greatest problems of the Church in our time is that too many Christians think that God has spoken to us in a book. They believe that the Word is words- the print on a page, the text of the Bible. And so they think that part of being a Christian is that we need to believe a hundred impossible things before breakfast. Such Christians believe these things to be literally true, because they think the Word is a book.

But I don’t, and we don’t have to, because The Book itself, the Bible itself, gives us here a hint that the Word of God is something which cannot be bound up in a book- not even a leather covered book with a zip. For in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and was God, and the Word came into the world, though the world did not know him, and the Word became flesh and lived among us. You cannot know the Word just by reading the text of a book, for God’s Word has come to us not in a book, but as a person. The Word became flesh at Bethlehem- the son of parents who could find no place at the inn. A child who, with his family, had to flee the wrath of a bloody dictator and seek asylum, refugees in a strange land. The Word grew and enlightened the world, teaching grace and truth. Very much from his Jewish tradition, he nevertheless was willing to reinterpret that tradition. He was gracious and kind even to those who the religious thought were beyond the pale. He healed the sick, brought forgiveness to sinners, treated women and children with a graciousness which had not been seen before.

And it is this Word who is still alive in the Church, speaking to us not of ancient rules, but of love and grace and forgiveness. Yes, it is through the Bible that we meet Christ, the Word of God made flesh and living among us. But he interprets the words of the Bible for us, helps us to navigate what it means to live as his followers today.

The prophets of old promised a Messiah- a Saviour for the people:

“Comfort my people,” says our God. “Comfort them!

In time, it happened- John the Baptist paved the way for it, and an angel announced it to Mary:

You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High God.

And in a town where she was a stranger, Mary had her baby:

She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger- there was no room for them to stay in the inn.

The Word has become flesh to live among us! Thanks be to God! Amen.