Our first scripture reading today comes from the prophet Isaiah. Many scholars have made careers out of Isaiah; most suggesting that the book of scripture we call “Isaiah” may be a compilation of at least three different “Isaiah’s.” Nevertheless, what the church has received is “Isaiah.”
If you’ve been anywhere near a church over the last few weeks, as we have moved through the season of Advent, and now celebrate the full twelve days of Christmas, you’ve heard a lot of Isaiah.
Through these weeks the church watched and waited. We heard and sang the old promises as we hoped together for God’s promises to unfold—promises of peace, promises of purpose, of knowledge and wisdom, promises of love.
In today’s reading Isaiah again offers evidence from nature about promises. As rain and snow come down from heaven, do their work of watering, and then return…. just as seeds are planted and then sprout up, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater… in just the same way, God says, God’s own promises, God’s own Word will come and be among us and not fail. God’s word will accomplish and succeed, and result in joy and peace. Trees will clap their hands, hills will burst into joy, all sorts of signs will appear, and all sorts of celebrations will show forth.
St. John traces the movement of God’s word, God’s word that comes with a purpose and succeeds (eventually) in promoting peace and love and joy. The primary Gospel reading for Christmas is from John, who says, “Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory,” … glory that is “full of grace and truth.”
A wedding is a service of words, but especially during Christmas, and especially today, this wedding looks at words in at least three different ways.
There are the words that are exchanged.
There is the Word of God.
And there is the word that Laura and Tom become, proclaim, and share.
We use a wordy service. The words come from the American Book of Common Prayer, which originated in Thomas Cranmer’s Book of 1549, but of course had even earlier roots in Sarum rites, used around Salisbury and most of England since at least the 11th century. And so these words carry weight. Not only to they include the “I do’s” and “I will’s,” they include the words, “I give thee,” “with all that I am, and all that I have,” I honor thee. These are words that have been said over the centuries, and they are words that are said not only with us as audience, but also with a cloud of witnesses—saints who are standing by for help—to pray for you, and the help you. Laura and Tom, I hope you will feel the power of the tradition that upholds you.
We have noticed the wordiness of the rites we observe today, but grounding us all is that larger Word of God, the word pointed to by Isaiah, the Word made Flesh in Jesus Christ. As Laura and others in this room well know, in the Hebrew scriptures whenever God speaks, something happens. God’s dabar, God’s spoken word, never remains merely something that is heard, but always results in something. This Word of God gets behind and drives toward completion. And so whatever words Tom and Laura may say to eat other today, tomorrow, for the rest of their lives, God’s creative Word goes with them, surrounding them, whispering and reminding, soothing and stirring up, offering the power of silence when minds and bodies become too busy, offering a word of insight when things seem stuck.
Sometimes God’s word seems faint, as though God stopped speaking. T. S. Eliot wonders about this in Ash Wednesday,
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.
Even when we can’t hear it, even when we can’t quite make it out, God’s word (just as the world’s whirling) continue. Tom and Laura, I hope you will feel the power of God’s word upholding you.
Finally, there are the words we speak today, there is God’s Word that under girds us, and then there is a new word about to be pronounced, about to be spoken and proclaimed. Its syllables are just forming, its language, even, has not really yet been decided. This word-that-is-forming is the love of Laura and Tom. As they come together, they begin to create their own word, a word inspired by the various traditions they bring together, a word growing from and sometimes bouncing off from the Word of God, but little by little, they will create their own word. It’s our job to honor that. The word they create may sound different to some of us. It may look different and we may have trouble figuring out how to spell it. We may have to ask them to repeat it to us, over and over. But it’s THEIR word to create—not ours. The word that is created by Laura and Tom’s love may not appear in any of our books, it may not be a part of our vocabulary, and it may even sound offensive to our comfortable ears—but again, it is their word, their word whispered into their hearts by God who creates, who moves, who never speaks empty words, and whose word changes the whole world.
Laura and Tom, you have begun your word together. As you move into marriage, may it continue to be a word that includes justice, nature, kindness, truth, laughter, and love. May you continue to have the generosity and patience of sharing your word with us. And so, now, let’s get about it, let’s put letter to letter, join the syllables, maybe even violate a bit of syntactical precedence, and get you married!