THE FLESH BECAME WORDS

– A Christmas Reflection –

A childhood memory has me sitting on the kitchen stool, just home from school, while my mother stood at the sink peeling potatoes for supper. I am talking at full speed recounting the events of my day, not heeding repetition, and probably not making much sense. My mother would pause, look in my direction and say: “Now Andrew, slow down and don’t waste your words!”

While shy and quiet in the classroom I must have been garrulous once at home as I remember this phrase being repeated on many occasions. Sometimes my cheeky response would run something like this: “Mum, how can I waste my words? Do I have only a limited supply of them? Is it possible that I could tell you the teacher gave us a project for (the) weekend, and at that point I run out of (the)  word “(the)” never to repeat it again? Could it be that there is a limited supply of (the)  word “(the)” and once they have been used up (the)  word is never to be heard from my lips again?”

As I began to study French maybe I could have come home to substitute French translations for that same word, and so, in telling my mother of my day I could tell her that: “Le teacher had asked us to leave le classroom quietly and enjoy le weekend”. But that would leave unaddressed questions about gender and language. Should it be le or la? Is “classroom” masculine or feminine? Who cares?

From our first breath we begin to use our mouths to communicate. As we learn to speak, we subconsciously discover that tongue and lips and throat are used to control sounds that produce responses in our hearers. No matter which language, our use of vowels, consonants and glides constitutes speech.  Whether we aspirate, lisp, or growl; whether our voice sounds sweet or hoarse; whether we use glottal stops or nasals, fricatives, affricates, or diphthongs, it is our flesh that forms speech. Flesh of tongue and lips, with flesh of alveolar ridge and velum combine to form our words as air is expelled. For other languages, such as French and German, Uvula and Pharynx come into use as different sounds form shapes of foreign words.

Once words are formed, they carry meaning. They can tell stories, they teach and instruct, they can encourage and speak life, they honor, commend, congratulate, praise and worship; but then they can also tear someone down, curse someone out, tell lies, deceive, and negate truth. They gossip, upbraid, accuse, defame, and slander. Flesh, worded out, can build up .. or destroy.

Our flesh truly wastes our words when we gabble on, when we don’t listen reflectively, or when our speech denies another an opportunity to speak. Aesop told us that: after all is said & done, much more is said than ever done, while Simon & Garfunkel reminded us that man hears what he wants to hear & disregards everything else[i]. So many words wasted. Jesus tells us that out of abundance of heart, mouth speaks[ii]. What is inside, comes out… & in this world of instant connectivity today’s words travel far further, more quickly.

Two thousand years ago our world was turned upside down. Flesh had formed words for centuries as men & women of old spoke their thoughts, feelings & emotions; as they laughed, loved, taught, fought, groveled & reveled. Now, Word, creative power of God, was made incarnate to live among men & women. That Word, which was when all began, which was with God, & was God; that Word through which all things were made, without which nothing was made that has been made; that Word through which all that is flesh & all that is not flesh came to have being in this world; to breathe, to labor, to live, to love … friends, neighbors & enemies; to take all punishment for all evil acts of all flesh upon His own flesh; to die, brutally, horribly, cruelly; to rise to resurrected life, conquering death, conquering destructive power of flesh; to rise, to ascend, to live forevermore; to offer that life to us. That Word came!

As Christmas brings another year to its close, we may reflect on one of greater challenges than before; of anxiety, heartache, grief, & fear, brought on by pandemic, economic challenge, observations of suffering among others, & low-grade trauma that has affected us all. Surely, though, we are entitled to moments of levity as our flesh makes words, so here goes:

I used to think that sticks & stones could break my bones, but words could never hurt me – & then I fell into my friend’s printing press!

How can you tell your alphabet spaghetti was manufactured in Eastern Europe? Those naughty little consonants all clump together! (It looks far funnier in Polish – Po czym poznać, że spaghetti z alfabetem zostało wyprodukowane w Europie Wschodniej?)

Oh, & my friend just told me that if I did not get off my computer, he would slam my head down onto its keyboard. I think he’s only joki_tgyjkhgtfrdtryuy;lxs’sfn

& with discernment you will have noticed that after my conversation with my mother I’ve not been able to use definite & indefinite articles. My supply has run out. Readers may also note that after paragraph six my computer had exhausted supplies of one particular conjunction replacing it with ampersands.

So for thousands of years flesh has been making words but after all is said & much left undone it is good to be reminded that Ο λόγος έγινε σάρκα και κατοίκησε ανάμεσά μας (O lógos égine sárka kai katoíkise anámesá mas)…… Oh! Great news! My supply of English words has been miraculously replenished. I can now say: 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.[iii]

And the Word of the Lord endures forever!

Merry Christmas


[i] A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest – Lyric from The Boxer – Simon & Garfunkel, Columbia Records, 1969

[ii] Matthew 12:34

[iii] John 1:14

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