For Sunday 4th February 2024, the Second Sunday before Lent Proverbs 8:1.22-31
John 1: 1-140
May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen Every year the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary invite people around the world to nominate their word of the year. Late last year the results for 2023 were announced. There was Swiftie (n.): an enthusiastic fan of the singer Taylor Swift and situationship (n.): a romantic relationship that is not considered to be formal or established. Top of the list was rizz (n.), meaning to have style, charm, or attractiveness, derived apparently from ‘charisma’. The dictionary makers say that these are words are all chosen to reflect the mood, ethos, or preoccupations of the year. Of course, we all know that language changes and it may be that already, just a few months after those findings were published, early in 2024 very few people here today would think of saying they were in a situationship or that they knew someone who had rizz. But for many thousands of people, 30.,000 according to the OED, the words which best summed up their experience of the world in 2023 expressed something they felt was precious about being alive and had something to do with being in relationship with other people. The forces which created and popularised those words came about expressed a desire to be loved to be valued and to be in relationship with others.
Today’s readings are also about words and relationships, but unlike rizz and situationship these are words and relationships which have endured over time… indeed 1 John takes us back to the very beginning of time itself. In Proverbs the word is Wisdom, calling to us in a voice which many people through the ages have interpreted as being that of Christ himself, and in John we’re invited to reflect on the very first Word, the Word which was in the beginning, ‘the Word was with God and the Word was God.’
Our Sunday readings since Christmas have had a common theme; they’ve all shown how important being in relationship with the charismatic figure of Jesus [who very definitely did have plenty of rizz (n.), transformed the everyday lives of the characters we encountered during Epiphany , from the three kings entering a dark and smelly stable and encountering a vulnerable baby, to Nathaniel sitting by the roadside under a fig tree, the wedding guests whose water was tuned into wine and finally Simeon and Anna who recognised the Messiah in the child brought by his parents to the temple.
These are all characters who encounter Jesus in a very physical world - this is a Jesus who appears in stables and weddings and by the roadside, but today’s readings sweep us up and away from the everyday world of the wedding guests, of Nathaniel and Anna and Simeon. We’re not sitting under a fig tree, or guests at a wedding reception; instead, we’re being taken back to the very beginning of time... Thank goodness the Jesus we’ve been walking with since Christmas has been so physically present-turning water into wine and visible to Kings and fishermen, because the Christ we encounter today, in Proverbs, in Paul’s letter to the Colossians and in 1 John is an altogether more elemental force. It’s as if we’re being invited to open our eyes to the understanding that Christ who has been such a present and very real presence in our readings so far this year is at one and the same time central to everything we are as human beings. We’re invited to see Christ in everything and everyone, present in all times and all places since being present with God at the very creation of the universe.
So, today’s readings ask us to think of that same Jesus who has been so present in the everyday world of fig trees and wedding receptions as also having been ‘in the beginning with God.’ The Prologue to John’s Gospel asks us to leave behind the constraints of that everyday physical world and to wonder at the mystery of ‘the Word’. To do this we need other words, like those in Proverbs, to help us imagine what ‘being in the beginning with God’ might possibly be like. In Proverbs we hear Wisdom describing herself as existing ‘before one thing came into being’.,
‘When there were no depths, I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills I was brought forth.’ It’s as if Jesus himself is speaking in first person about the time defying and indefinable nature of ‘the Word’.
‘When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep…’. We can only wonder at the immensity of what’s being described here, but uniting the words of Wisdom in Proverbs with the Prologue to John’s Gospel is a sense not just of elemental and incomprehensible forces at work shaping the created universe, but also of deeply intimate and loving relationships being celebrated and valued. The God of Proverbs loves the company of his master worker wisdom and delights in humanity. The Prologue to John’s Gospel tells us that the ‘the Word’ which shapes the whole created universe, finds its expression not just in the mysteries of the cosmos and its origins but also in human relationships. We all have the ‘power to become children of God’, and the glory John refers to is both an elemental force of cosmic radiance, yet also ‘the glory as of a father’s only son.’ This is glory as deep and intimate love, such as our readings tell us God has for us and for the whole of creation.
When John tells us that ‘in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ he’s inviting us to think of a Word which unlike those contained in the pages of the OED we can never hope to define because this Word is an expression of everything and everyone that’s ever been created. It is the single most creative and inclusive force that any of us can ever hope to know, but this isn’t knowledge that we have to work at; simply by being alive we also ‘have come into being through him. He is ‘the light of all people’; and that includes each one of us.
That’s why ultimately the word of the year isn’t really ‘rizz’, or ‘situationship’, words which will drop out of fashion and be forgotten. John’s gospel tells us that the word of this year and every year since the beginning of creation isn’t one that can be contained within the pages of a dictionary – this word is one we carry within us because we are all part of creation, ‘all things have been created through him and for him.’
This is such a profound mystery that there comes a point when we just have to let ourselves go and enjoy the words of the Prologue and their invitation to enter that relationship, to become ‘children of god’... this is a life which we all experience every moment of our lives because it’s part of us, whether or not we fully realise it. -the light which is the light of all people. The darkness which John refers to always seems to be very close; part of being alive is to know that there is darkness in all our lives. We all have our own experiences of the darkness that John refers to. But our readings from Paul, John and Proverbs invite us to wonder at how the light of God’s presence, shaping and creating the world and made real to all of us in the presence of Jesus, opens our eyes to the understanding that Christ, who has been such a very real presence in our readings so far this year, is central to everything we are as human beings. We’re invited to see him in everything and everyone, present with God in all times and all places since the very creation of the universe. And no words, not even the word of the year, can ever fully express the wonder and mystery that come with knowledge like that.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy spirit amen.