On Friday I was watching a news update from a traffic centre monitoring the state of the roads as people “got away” for Christmas. Everything seemed to be flowing smoothly and, on a number of occasions, as the presenter referred to this she stressed that she was not trying to “tempt fate”. The implication was that her saying everything was ok could cause some form of traffic disruption.
We see something similar when sports commentators refer to the “commentators curse” – normally after saying something about how well an athlete / sportsperson is performing and them then falling over or scoring an own goal!
I don’t know about you but it strikes me as incredibly arrogant to think that the words we say can have an impact in these types of situations when we are remote from what is going on and not involved at all. And it can give us a sense of importance and self-centredness that is disturbing and unhelpful. It may simply be a figure of speech but I hear it enough to think people believe that there is something to it, there is some mystical power in the words they are saying.
On the other hand we see many instances where people use words in a derogatory or defamatory way that have the real potential to cause harm and it is seen to be ok. Probably the major context in which this takes place is on social media or comment areas on websites where people seem to feel free to say whatever they like – and often things that if they were said face-to-face would cause real offence. Listening to a radio interview a few weeks ago I heard a lady admitting she had said something about someone else on Twitter that she should not have done but defending herself by saying that “everyone does it”. And we are continually hearing apologies from senior figures in government and elsewhere for posting something that they now realise they should not have done.
We seem to have things back-to-front: when the words we say are not going to have any impact we guard them; when the words we say have the potential to have a real impact we lose all restraint. Not that this is true for everyone but it does seem to be a growing trend.
The apostle Paul – one of the early church leaders – encouraged Christian believers at Colossae to engage in speech characterised by grace and that is appealing to others:
Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. (Colossians 4:6)
And as such we are called to follow the example of Jesus of whom it was said.
Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. (Luke 4:22a)
But it isn’t just that the words Jesus spoke were gracious, were helpful, were full of wisdom. He was also referred to as “the Word”.
In the powerful opening to his Gospel, John speaks about this Word as someone who has always been there, has always been with God, was indeed God Himself, was the creator of all things, the one who brings life, the one who brings light (John 1:1-5).
And the amazing truth that John goes on to declare is that this Word chose to come into this world to become one of us, to become human, to walk and work among us, to share our lives with us, to be God-made-flesh. John sums it up in this way:
So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son. (John 1:14)
And this is the reality we celebrate at this time of Christmas – that the baby who was born at Bethlehem was God’s Son coming into the world to bring life and hope and peace and light.
The words we speak are important but even more important is how we respond to “The Word” who came into the world for us and was willing to die for us on a cross to bring us life.
How will you use choose to use words? How will you respond to this Word?