There is no doubt in my mind that we live a wordy culture – every time I turn on the media I am caught in avalanche of words from pundits who seem to simply repeat the nostrums of the day and usually end up chasing their tails (or should that be ‘tales’?). Whilst this may not be an actual case of logorrhea it can be disconcerting as I try to navigate my way through all the words to find the ones that matter.
As someone who enjoys writing I think that words and language are vitally important, even though body language is useful, words remain one of our primary means of communication – as recent debates about racism and sexism heat up we are reminded that it matters what words you use and how you use them. The late playwright Dennis Potter once commented;”The trouble with words is that you never know whose mouths they have been in”. This is a cautionary comment, especially where religious words are concerned!
Yet although the stories that cluster around this season are full of words, it is the smallest word of all that starts everything rolling. This is Mary’s ‘yes’ in her response to the vision she received in her kitchen – this deceptively small word unlocks a season’s worth of mysteries. Like the response to a proposal of marriage, this word begins a new relationship, dare I say it, between the divine and human experience. In a sense it does not really matter how this experience was written up – the essential thing is what happened because of Mary’s willingness to give herself to this ‘new thing’ that God was attempting. I think it is fascinating that whenever God wants to try something new, it takes human involvement to bring it to fruition. And this story (and Mary’s deep question; “How can this be?”) turns on this small word that signals a huge gesture of willingness and sacrifice.
The writer Margaret Silf puts it this way in her book ‘Lighted Windows’; “As we pause alongside Mary at the moment of Jesus conception, we are witnessing the moment when God’s idea has come to its time. Life itself is God’s idea, when this Christ child is given to us to bring life in all its fullness……Nothing on earth can stop the fulfilling of God’s idea, now that Mary has said her ‘Yes’. The divine revolution is under way!”.
As we all pause on the cusp of this holy season may we know the power of words to begin something new as well as to assure us hopefully that good things will continue – may we watch what we say, learning afresh the power of even the smallest words. And may we find time to look for that Word made flesh who waits silently at the edge of our celebrations to be spoken into life and to bring light and hope.
(Margaret Silf’s immensely valuable book ‘Lighted Windows – An Advent Calendar for a World in Waiting’ is published in the UK by the Bible Reading Fellowship).