What else did we hear about the word of God today? In our psalm we heard that God sends out this word to the creation, and it responds. We heard that this divine word, it moves swiftly. This sacred word can stand up against the cold, and this holy word, it moves as a wind. In the Hebrew, the word for wind is the same word for breath and energy and it is ruach. For us, ruach is the Holy Spirit. This word isn’t text on a page or utterances with no impact. The strange truth uttered this morning is that this word of God is active, from before the beginning began.
Psalm 147 is nearly at the end of the psalter and it is considered to be a part of the closing finale. Behind all its triumphant security is circumstantial evidence of crippling disorientation. This is the celebration of people who have been faced with utter failure, and self-made lostness. Yet what they learned over time and through community discernment is that gruesome reality is not the end of the story. This finale of a Psalm rises into sacred hope and ponders God’s paradoxical endless presence and eternal closeness. It is God who rebuilds who gathers who heals - everywhere. It is God who loves us and calls us by our names - always. It is God who advocate for us, and who lifts up the last and the least - every one of us.
In our translation, the 12th verse of the psalm ends by mentioning God's gracious favor. This is an unusual choice. Other translations choose faithful love or loving kindness or unfailing love orr steadfast love - not a silly sentiment but an active relational promise between God and humanity. The psalms in our prayer book are an unusual work of art. Translating is always a choice and the deciding factor for the prayer book psalms is their chant ability. Furthermore, due to complicated reasons I'll explain some other time, the numbering is a bit different so if you looked up this exact passage of this psalm in most Bible translations you would be looking for verse 11. Anyways, in the word that in our BCP Psalm is verse 12 is gracious favor and elsewhere faithful love: it is In Hebrew one word - hesed. And hesed is one of the 3 Hebrew words That tell the shape and meaning of what We trust are the core characteristics of God. These are mercy, compassion and steadfast love (which in Hebrew is 1 word). Our psalm today only uses one of those Hebrew words, however, the meaning of all 3 words is illustrated in its enchantments. In this vision the one God of the universe created humanity to be in lifegiving community with God and all creation that acts from these bedrock characteristics of God: compassion, mercy, steadfast love.
Then in the Gospel of John, the sacred storyteller opens up with his mind-twisting poetry: Word was God and is God and became flesh Dwelled among us - full of grace and truth. Part of what the sacred storyteller is saying is related to our Psalmic vision - that God's shape and intention is made clear in Christ, this meaning is what is made Human, and while we cannot separate the meaning from Godself, it is also in the same movement made profoundly vulnerable, so to forever transform the dialouge with God’s beloved people.
We have crossed to the other side of the Solstice and from now on this winter the light will grow. The wider world has crossed over from the Winter Wonderland season to the Diet-and-amend-your-ways season. But we here in the church are still in the sacred mystery of Christmas. We are holding dear to us the meaning and intention of all of the words we've spoken and sung through these Advent and Chrismas seasons. Striving to keep the 12 days of Christmas, which are after Christmas: which are right now, striving to keep these as sacred isn't just stubbornness or countercultural. It's letting the newborn word of God breathe in us to shape in us the sacred truth of Christmas, one that is much more than just sweet feelings. Christmas is dialogue between insider and outsider, God and humanity. Conversations that if we hear it make the way of steadfast love - hesed - clear - this child is this clarity. If the last six weeks of study, prayer, and worship didn’t stir in you activity of compassion or steadfast love or mercy, then these last 6 or so days, are a chance to more truly respond to the mystery of Christmas. How will this wonder change you And your conversations, for the better?
Even now in this time of hatred and division and attacks and atrocities and numbness God's word - God’s meaning and expectation Is made clear, We have a promise to keep and therefore a part to play in this ultimate story. We are called to turn back to the beginning, to be redefined as a part of the sacred mystery of God’s incarnation. As Christmas continues, let us live into God's meaning and God's intention which is summed up in the Word made human: Jesus the Christ: who is mercy, who is loving-kindness, and who is compassion for you and for all. The text does not say that a feeling became flesh. John's gospel says that the Word of God became human. A distinct communication of profound meaning - The Word of God - Was and is this child in Mary’s arms.
December 29, 2019
Christ Church, Ridley Park, PA