The Word Made Silent

Infinity, it seems, can be spoken without words.

When God created the visible (and invisible) universe he spoke words — ”let there be light” — and things that were not in one moment began to exist in the next. Stars. Planets. Oceans. Mountains. Trees. Animals. Flowers.

All these things and more were breathed into existence by God. When the Father began to make all things, our wisdom tells us that it was the Son by whom the Father spoke all things into being; Christ spoke the things that were not as though they were and they were so. Orchid. Zebra. Maple. Everest. Atlantic. Jupiter. Andromeda. And so on.

Instead of speaking humanity into existence, our wisdom tells us that God hand-crafted men and women from clay, breathed into our motionless humanity the breath of life, invested flesh with his image, and gave us something the rest of creation does not have except metaphorically: the divine capacity of language.

Though all living things communicate, only humans have the gift of speech and this capacity is creative (like God) or destructive (like the dark powers), depending on our choice.

The mystery of the Incarnation is so great that every year — in this time of Advent and Christmas, six blessed weeks of waiting and celebration — if we are paying attention, we see something we have never seen before, encounter a facet of the birth narrative we missed or neglected or did not see in all its beauty.

The season from Thanksgiving to Epiphany allows Christians to marinate in the story of the Word made bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh and we come away not as spectators but as *participants* in the mystery.

Ponder with me the humility of a God who speaks all things into existence making himself speechless, making himself incapable of sounding words.

God invites a teenager into the pattern of sound words, asks her to bear God — to bear the One who cannot be contained — in her tiny womb. She consents. And in her womb by the Spirit the Son who spoke the far-flung galaxies into motion aeons ago comes to complete silence, knit together in that holy space by a mystery that Jesus’ forefather David knew was awe-inspiring and wondrous.


Christ emerges from her womb into this world of struggle and pain and vulnerability and beyond crying out as most babies do, he has no power to address his human brothers and sisters beyond the glory of his personal presence among us as God and man. As the great carol has it, “for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.”

Mary lays the Word made silent into the feed box. And the Word submits to silence until in the mystery of his genuine humanity God learns to speak as we all do by being spoken to — primarily by hearing the voice of the teenager who welcomed him to be born in her.

Words like “immah” (mother) or “abba” (father) Jesus learns from Mary. And as he learned to speak as we all do, his words in time begin to reveal the majesty of his unique person so that while still a boy all the men of wisdom in the Temple marvel at his speech, as does everyone who encounters in the gospels the mystery of divinity and humanity that is spoken in Jesus Christ.

“I am the door.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the light of the world.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “Do good to those who hate you.” “I have called you friends.” “Father forgive them.” “Love your enemies.”

Above all — here in the Word made flesh — all other words about God find the tongue that interprets them *in* Jesus Christ.

I am astonished, and in my heart I am on my knees, before this mystery that God becomes silent for us and for our salvation. So much — infinity, it seems, by this account — can be spoken without words. The One God who spoke the worlds into existence reveals love in a profound wordless action.

The mystery is great. Good news of great joy. Glory in the highest! May you and yours experience a glorious eighth day of this wondrous feast of Christmas.



Pastor | Contributor: Mockingbird, Sojourners, Huffington Post, Clarion Journal | Theologian l Author “Vulnerable God” (forthcoming, Baker Books)

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Kenneth Tanner

Pastor | Contributor: Mockingbird, Sojourners, Huffington Post, Clarion Journal | Theologian l Author “Vulnerable God” (forthcoming, Baker Books)