Dr. Wentz is professor of religious studies at Arizona State University in Tempe, and the author of The Contemplation of Otherness: The Critical Vision of Religion, to be published soon by Mercer University Press.
This article appeared in the Christian Century, December 10, 1980, p. 1214. Copyright by The Christian Century Foundation; used by permission. Current articles and subscription information can be found at www.christiancentury.org. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Without the word, there would be no human race, no civilization. If you take from me the ability to speak and to record words, you take away all that is. Without the word, there is nothing. If it is true that nothing exists without a word, then everything that is, is the speech of God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made [John 1:1-3].
It is the truest of all insights. There must be a time to celebrate it! Perhaps the time is Christmas -- a season for solemnizing the truth of the Word made flesh. The Word makes flesh. The Word makes flesh make flesh! Without the Word there is no flesh.
But something -- stranger perhaps -- is also true: without the Word there is no spirit. The Word makes flesh! The Word makes flesh into spirit. You look into someone’s face as you pass. The person is just a face. You see that person again and again, but nothing important registers. You may remember an expression, some feature -- a nose, eyes, a mouth. But some special word may be necessary for you to remember even that much. Then one day you go to a party. In the crush of people moving from room to room, a hand touches your arm: "Excuse me, please; I didn’t want to spill your drink." There it is again, that face. The flesh emboldened by some words.
The hostess intercedes: "John, dear! Have you met Elvira? I think you have something in common. She loves Mozart as much as you do." Elvira! The word becomes a person. The person becomes a word. Something is being created. Someone! The Word has become flesh. And, in becoming flesh, it has also become more than that. It has become spirit -- if it is to be, a very beautiful spirit. Perhaps the Word will bring love, as the Divine Word means it to be.
I am trying to train my dog. She’s a year old, an English springer spaniel -- in good churchly tradition, vested in black and white. We’ve named her "Holly." Or rather, our daughters did -- because she was a Christmas gift. "Holly" is a pretty dog, and intelligent -- I think. I look into that sad but friendly little black face and see that she wants to please, so much. Gradually she begins to feel the presence of certain words: "Sit"; "Lie down"; "Stay" -- and, of course. "Holly" and "No." I sit there watching her, and I begin to think: What happened long ago -- thousands of years into the folds of time? This creature, this dog, was called into being.
How fascinating it must have been when homo sapiens saw the word become flesh! One of those prowling brutes, wolflike, lurks about the edge of the campfire, cleaning the bones of carcasses left from the hunt. The human being utters certain sounds, forms a word, says it again and again! Gradually the animal raises its head and takes several steps forward. "Holly," you have been made flesh. You have become a dog. You were once a curious creature of the wilderness. Now, a word has made’ you. You are a dog! You are Holly. Now you are; before you were not!
Without the word, there would be no human race, no civilization. If you take from me the ability to speak and to record words, you take away all that is. Without the word, there is nothing. If it is true that nothing exists without a word, then everything that is, is the speech of God. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . and without him was not anything made that was made," All about us, at every moment, the miracle of Creation itself breaks forth. The Word becomes flesh! It becomes spirit; it becomes love.
Christmas is the incarnation of the truth we do not want to see, the truth that is always with us. The miracle goes on all the time, and we do not see or respond. But if you will reach out and touch the manger, you will see the Word become flesh. You will know that it dwells among us. The Word who breathes in the child of Mary -- that same word wants to create in you a clean heart and renew a right spirit within you so that you may become as God.