Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve, 11 pm

John 1
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Things in Latin just sound better. We chickened out at 7 pm, choosing not to sing “Adeste Fideles” and sing the English words to “O come all ye faithful” instead. I scanned the crowd for any classicist rebels, but there were none to be found. There just aren’t enough Latin speakers in Weston anymore.

Latin never really goes away, of course. The Vatican still functions in Latin, proving that changing popes 265 times doesn’t mean you’re going to change the “lingua franca” that everyone is used to. And besides, if God speaks Hebrew, surely the saints in light are speaking privately in Latin.

Further proof that Latin is popular: the humble tattoo. Go home and google the phrase “incorrect Latin tattoos” and you will find countless websites dedicated to the kind of mistakes that happen when people turn to the internet for translation services rather than their local classics department.

“In principio erat Verbum,” Jim read a few minutes ago, “In the beginning was the Word.” John 1 is the other Christmas reading, call it the late night reading, when we put away the angels and shepherds and get to the heart of the matter. And getting to the heart of the matter is John’s forte.

John is less nativity, more signs. He is less travelogue, more tableau. He is less description and more conversation. He is all theology all the time, and he never tries to be anything else. The longest conversations in the New Testament occur in John, with the woman at the well, and Nicodemus, and even in risen form, with his disciples, cooking a simple meal.

You might say the conversation begins tonight. How fitting then, that John says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus is God’s conversation starter, the first word in the gift we call incarnation and the last word in human need.

By verse 14 we hear the good news that “et Verbum caro factum,” translated “the Word became flesh” and dwelt among us. Caro is flesh, or meat, the same word that gives us “carne” and “carnivore.” Makes it all seem a bit more real, doesn’t it? And “factum” is translated “became” as in “became flesh” but it also means “achieved” or “accomplished,” such as ‘the Word achieved flesh and dwelt among us.’

What if we imagine human form as an accomplishment, something God wanted to achieve tonight? What if it was less choosing human form and more achieving it: regarding incarnation as an accomplishment, and our way, the way of flesh as the prize. Hear the Latin in the word “incarnation,” literally enfleshment?

God begins in conversation, achieves enfleshment, and takes pains to dwell in our midst. We receive the gift of incarnation, God-with-us, but we ourselves are the prize. It is humanity God wants, keeping the conversation going, with the next word always being “love.” Amen and amen.


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