Words Come to Life

Amy Wagner



In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ...And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
  ~John 1:1, 14

The opening verses of John’s Gospel are often read at Christmas time, for they express the truth of the baby Jesus in the manger in rich, deep theological language.  They tell us the Christian message in a nutshell:  look at Jesus, and you will see God!  In Jesus, the words of God – the creating, life-giving, redeeming words of God – are lived out.  Jesus is the word of God.  In him, God’s words become real to us.  Words take on shape in a human life.
We, too, embody words.  
Author Barbara Brown Taylor writes:
Jesus is not alone in this word-made-flesh business…Almost everyone has a word that he or she has a gift for bringing to life.  For one person the word is ‘compassion.’  For another it is ‘justice.’  For someone else the word is ‘generosity.’  For another it is ‘patience.’  Until someone acts upon these words, they remain abstract concepts – very good ideas that few people have ever seen.  The moment someone acts on them, the words become flesh.  They live among us so we can see their glory.   

We, like Jesus, live out words.  What words we will live out, however, is up to us.  Sometimes the words we bring to life are words like irritable…grumpy… distracted…impatient.  We don’t always embody words that point to God, as Jesus did.

But sometimes, we do get it right.  Sometimes we live out words like love, grace, and truth.  I remember a man named Jose.  Jose was the janitor at a homeless shelter on Chicago’s west side, where I once worked as a chaplain.  I saw Jose often in the course of my work there, but didn’t speak to him much.  His English was broken and slow, and my Spanish was – well, much worse than his English.  So we mostly just nodded and smiled at one another as we passed in the halls.  But as I learned more about the history of that place, I learned Jose’s story too.

As a young father Jose got a job on the cleaning staff of a local nursing home.  Years went by, and the neighborhood around the home deteriorated, the nursing home eventually closed, and the building sat empty.  But Jose, who lived down the street with his family, didn’t want the abandoned building to become a drug hangout.  So he maintained it.  Impeccably.  

Jose mowed the grass and planted flowers in the spring.  He painted the worn siding when the old paint began to peel.  He washed the windows.  He repaired the sagging gutters.  He kept the building looking beautiful.  And he did it for six years.  Six years of quietly taking care of an abandoned building.  Six years of watching out for the neighborhood kids, making sure they had a safe, well-maintained lawn on which to play in an increasingly dangerous neighborhood. 

Six years later, the board of directors of a homeless shelter found this building on Chicago’s west side, and it became their new home.  And Jose was hired as their caretaker.  For me, whenever I think of what it means to be faithful to a task, to a community, to a place – I see Jose’s face.  He brought faithfulness to life.

We human beings are created in God’s image with the power of words – creative words – that bring to life the abstract.  We have the power, through our lives, to bring love, peace, joy, hope to life.  We have the power, by the grace of God, to volunteer our own flesh to bring the glory of God into our world.  Think about it:  What words do you allow to take shape in your life?  Are they words that give life to others, that illuminate the character of God?


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