I’m always interested in the origins of poetry and novels, and words in general. I’ve always had an interest in words as long as I can remember. The origins of poetry, hymns and the written word are always important when we think about the meaning of the words.
Here’s a little background to the beloved Epiphany hymn, I Am the Light of the World, which we sang. It was written by Jim Strathdee in 1969, who has given us many beloved modern songs for singing in worship; Spirit of Gentleness is his, too. The music and the words are very meaningful and Jim and Jean have a lot of integrity in linking music with the building of God’s Kin-Dom. I am the Light of the World is based on a poem by Howard Thurman, an African-American poet, writer, teacher, theologian, minister, and civil rights leader. He was born right at the end of the 19th century and lived until 1981. He was a Baptist Minister who followed a philosophy of radical non-violence, and he was a mentor for Martin Luther King, Jr. He took a delegation of African-American people to India in the 30’s and met with Mahatma Gandhi and learned from Gandhi that part of Jesus’ message is as Liberator from segregation and racism. In 1944, he started San Francisco’s Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, the first integrated, interfaith, intercultural religious congregation in the US, still operating.
The poem, Now the Work of Christmas Has Begun, is the basis for Jim’s song, I am the light of the world.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
Thurman also wrote the poem, I Will Light Candles This Christmas.
I will light candles this Christmas,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.
Thurman also knew the power of words and once said, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” Fred Buechner used this quote and talked about discovering our deep joy that meets the needs of the world. Thurman also said, relevant today, “During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism.” And something he said that I like about our own gifts, “Follow the grain in your own wood.” Thurman was an inspirational person who lived what he believed and knew the importance of words!
In the online Guardian newspaper, I read an article a few weeks ago that I bookmarked; the title of the article was I was given a second chance: six amazing people describe how their lives changed forever. The article named people who embraced a life-changing event or situation; they became agents of change, compassion, love and hope. Qusay Hussein was injured by a bomb in Iraq in 2006, rescued by Médecins Sans Frontières, and became a student at the University of Texas. Kathy Pannozzi was a former nun in Rhode Island who married the priest of her church; they had the courage to know that their heart led them on a different calling and path. Dwayne Fields was a victim of gang crime in London, England, escaped and became an explorer and naturalist. Jan Jacobs of Wales realized she was gay at the age of 50, changed her life, and recently got married. Michelle Dorrell, a young woman who struggled with poverty, decided to go into politics after attending Question Time in England; it started when she stood up, spoke out her frustration that no one was listening to her and those who struggled. Colin Thackery was a Chelsea Pensioner who won Britain’s Got Talent at the age of 89! He was depressed while living in the Royal Hospital Chelsea and thought his life was over; but he sang to keep away the blues and was dared to enter the singing contest, which he won.
I mention these folks, and Howard Thurman, because I’ve been moved by their stories; they are people like you and me doing things that bring them hope and joy and in turn bring the world peace, hope and love. We all can choose to make a difference and live from our places of joy and hope. We can all change in ways that give life to the world. There are millions of people around the world doing this very thing!
Ordinary people making change is a key inspirational message for the New Year of 2020. The words we speak and embody make a difference. This message is one that we need to embrace for this year needs to be a year in which the status quo does not hold sway, but gives way to radical change that considers our human impact on the earth and how we can step back from the brink of climate disaster and now with events in Iran, war.
John’s Gospel is all about the importance of the Word; the Word became flesh, dwelt among us, is dwelling in us now so that the world might change so that we might change to live more fully God’s Kin-Dom of peace, compassion and love. In the ancient world, back into the Hebrew writings and the early Church, words were held to have a deeper meaning and power than they do today. Words contained an idea, a thought, which in turn made something known—it became an actual thing in history. To hear the word was to physically grasp and live out what was being conveyed in speech or written form. The word or words were also filled with power; those who heard the words received the power. But the power also was present independent of the hearer. Word was power and the use of words was carefully considered.
The Greek word for Word is Logos. This is the word that John used; it had other Greek philosophical meanings to it, but the Hebrew sense of power carried through. God’s Word was real, had independent power to create life, and became tangibly alive in the world. Jesus was God’s invitation to revalue our words and the Kin-Dom of love, compassion and hope. But it is also an invitation to put into practice the meaning of our lives and to live the words that are important to us. How will we embody the words that are important to us? That becomes the question for this year.
As Howard Thurman said, the work of Christmas now begins. Once we put away the decorations for the year, the lights and the candles, the question is, “How will we continue to live the Christmas Spirit?” Will we continue to light Christmas candles of peace, hope, joy and love? Will we find the lost and broken ones? Will we heal the broken-hearted? Will we feed the hungry? Will we bring peace to the nations and stop the posturing currently in vogue and will we make decisions about the climate that considers all life? Will we make music in each other’s hearts? That’s the work and meaning of Christmas and the Word becoming flesh. These are words we need to take to heart looking into 2020 and beyond! Amen.
 See The Guardian online Newspaper at https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/nov/03/i-was-given-a-second-chance-six-amazing-people-describe-their-life-changes?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other.