From Genesis: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, and the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” Or, as it is translated in the Torah, “In the beginning, when God was about to create heaven and earth, the earth was a chaos, unformed, and on the chaotic waters’ face there was darkness. Then God’s spirit glided over the face of the waters, and God said, “Let there be light!” ––and there was light.”
In the beginning, God spoke, and there was light. In the beginning was the Word ... and what has come into being in the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. What a wonderful way to begin the New Year, with this proclamation that the Word of God, God’s speech, brings light and life to all of creation! God’s Word *does* something - it makes happen what it speaks! God’s Word says, “Light!” and there is light! Imagine if our speech worked that way - I might say, “chocolate!” And there would appear chocolate! It would be awesome! God’s speech has the power to actually do things. God’s Words have the power to change our world.
And the world doesn’t change in just any old way. When God speaks the Word, both in Genesis and in John, the Word brings light and life. You see, the beginning of the Gospel of John is really a commentary, what we call a Jewish midrash, like Bible Study notes, on the opening of Genesis. Remember that in Genesis, first God speaks, “Light,” and there is light. There are the sun and the moon and the stars. And then, using a variety of words, God speaks, “Life,” and there is life. Plants, animals, sea creatures, birds, humans. So, in the Gospel of John we have this commentary on Genesis: “In the beginning was the Word,” and, “All things came into being,” through the Word, and, “what has come into being,” through the Word, “was life.”
But how can this be? What is the connection between God’s Word - the one from Genesis, which gave life, and the same Word from John, and us? Well, John didn’t invent this image of the Word, or Logos, as it says in the original Greek. John most likely got it from the Jewish idea of Memra. Memra is that which connects heaven and earth. That which brings together God’s realm with the human realm. We see it very clearly in Genesis - the wind from God (the NRSV translation really lets us down here - the King James, which I usually think is pretty inaccurate, says the Spirit of God, which is better), or in the Hebrew, the breath of God - comes from God to the earth and does things. The Word of God, the Memra, the Logos, forges a connection between heaven and earth. The Word of God issues from God’s mouth, as it were, and creates something here on earth. That’s why we say in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Whatever God speaks in heaven is done here on earth. There is a connection between our world and God’s kingdom, and so we pray aloud, we say words, and we call to mind Genesis and John and God’s Word creating light on earth, just as it brings light in heaven.
This connection isn’t just a thing of the past. God’s Word continues to act in the world today because God has given us the immense power of God’s Word. Martin Luther was very emphatic about this point, actually. Luther believed that when we proclaim the Word, by which he meant proclaiming the Good News, the Gospel, that it would happen. It would manifest. It would take place. In other words, when I say, “As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ and by his authority, I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of all your sins,” in that moment, in the speaking of those words, your sins are forgiven. I say, “God forgives your sins,” and they are forgiven. What I say isn’t just a reminder that your sins are forgiven, it’s a declaration. Any sins that you’ve committed between the last time you heard the words and this, they are forgiven. And it’s not just me - if you proclaim those words to someone else, “God forgives you,” that person is forgiven! It’s a weird thing, isn’t it? That God has given us the power of God’s Word? That we can tell someone they’re forgiven, no matter what they’ve done, and God forgives them? But that’s what it is to be made in God’s image. We go back to Genesis again, to see that God’s light and life have come into the world - into us, and that as we are made in the image of God, God gives us the power of God’s speech. And we return again to the miracle of the Incarnation of Christmas, to the Word taking on human flesh, and see that God once again God’s power is with humankind - with us. And we see that God gives our words the power to change the world.
So imagine that every word you speak comes true. Every word makes things happen. Imagine that you say to someone, “You’re so generous,” and they become generous. Or you say to someone, “You can do it!” and they do. Or, imagine that you say to someone, “You’re lazy,” and they become lazy. Or you say to someone, “You’ll never make it,” and they can’t. Our words, like God’s Word, make things happen. Not quite literally, but we have seen the way someone’s face lights up when we say something life-giving to them, and how someone’s face falls when we say something critical or disparaging. As the New Year is upon us, and as this is typically a time to reflect on the past year and on ourselves, we might ask ourselves, how do we speak to the people in our life? To our spouse? To our children? To our friends? To our parents? Do we speak God’s Word to them that brings them life and light? Or do our words come out as darkness? If you’re like me, I’m guessing that you’re wishing that there were many more words of life and light this past year than there actually were.
So what words shall we speak, then? “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light.” To testify means to see something and then to speak to it. To use words to talk about it. John the Baptist was specifically sent to speak about the light of God, about the Word of God that gives us light and life. God sends us, like John, to testify to the light. God sends us to speak God’s Word, to proclaim that Christ came to bring us new light and new life, to proclaim that God created the world, and every single person, to have life, and that God declared it all to be “very good.” God sends us to speak God’s Word that God is a god of forgiveness and mercy and steadfast love. God sends us to speak God’s Word that lifts people up and tells them they are children of God. God sends us to speak God’s Word so that people love God in return, and so that they can recognize the light and life they have already been given.
And so if you were to make any New Year’s Resolutions this year, I might suggest that you make one about your words. That you allow yourself to be the image of God you have been created as, and that you allow yourself to speak more Words that bring life and light to those around you. Of course, this is hard. We get in the habit of speaking words of darkness and death about people, words that are mean or judgmental or cutting or dismissive. But we are made in the image of God, and God has sent us to testify to the light. And so, since the Word of God does what it says, I will end by speaking Words to you. God has chosen and sent you to testify to the light that brings life to the world. Your words, as God’s words, change the world, so that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven. You are made in the image of God; you are a child of God. You are forgiven and made holy. You will speak great things. Thanks be to God. Amen.