Second Sunday after Christmas
On a busy street in Tokyo, Japan, a few dozen men nervously await their turn to take the stage. Wearing a stiff suit, businessman Yoshiharu Nishiguchi climbs the steps of the outdoor stage and stands in front of a giant heart made of pink tulips. His palms are sweating and his heart is pounding. He slowly inches his way toward the microphone. He has a message to give to his wife. He takes a deep breath, scans the dozens of curious passerbys and the TV cameras, and shouts at the top of his lungs, “Rieko, I love you!” Then, he walks off the stage and another man takes his place.
“Miwa!” the next man screams, “I love you!”
Kiyotaka Yamana first organized this “love-your-wife-shout-out” event 5 years ago. He felt that sometimes a person’s devotion to Japanese cultural values of modesty and pragmatism hurt relationships. In his own life and in the lives of other men, he observed that men were particularly hesitant to express their affection to their loved ones. Many people believed that love was something that should be implicitly understood and rarely, if ever, spoken aloud.
Yamana saw that we need to have a real, tangible confession of love in order to be confident that our loved ones love us back.
In the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye and Golde have been married for 25 years, have had a family together, and now their daughters are beginning to get married and start their own families. Even after all this time, Tevye wants to know if his wife, Golde, loves him. They had an arranged marriage at a young age and were told by their parents that they “would learn to love each other.” Tevye wants to hear the words “I love you,” to be absolutely certain of Golde’s love.
The Word can be a powerful thing. Without a clear word we are left wondering what someone else thinks or feels about us, but the word we share reveals our hearts. A word can change everything. Consider the words:
I am sorry
I love you
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” Saint Augustine professed that a word is an expression of our thoughts and desires and so God’s Word, Jesus the Christ, is the manifestation- the real presence- of God’s deepest thoughts and desires. Words reveal our hearts. Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, reveals God’s heart.
We who have walked in darkness may be wondering what God’s thoughts and feelings are about us and our neighbors. When life is difficult or painful for us, we might appreciate knowing what is going on in God’s heart at that point. 2015 saw its fair share of darkness. 17 homicides in Trenton, 329 mass shootings in the US , 130 people killed in the Paris terror attacks, 6.5 million Syrians displaced from their homes. In the midst of that and more darkness, we might really appreciate finding out what God is up to. What is God thinking right now? What is God’s heart doing? Does God have anything to say?
We might wonder if God even loves us. We might think that God has abandoned us. We made this mess and maybe God is angry with us and refuses to bail us out this time. We yearn to hear a word from God so that we might know what God is thinking and feeling.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and dwelled among us… From his fullness we have received grace upon grace.”
That is our Word from God. God’s Word is Jesus Christ and we have received grace upon grace. If words are used to reveal what is going on in our heart, we do not need to look any further than God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, to see God’s heart revealed. Jesus is like the words of the Japanese businessmen screaming at the top of their lungs, “I love you!” Jesus is like Golde assuring the crooning Tevye that after 25 years of marriage she loves him. God loves you. God loves you so much that God left God’s comfy and glorious throne in heaven and came to earth to be with us in the person of Jesus Christ. God was born like us, God grew in wisdom and stature like us, God experienced hunger and thirst like us, God ate and drank with loved ones like us, God suffered loss like us, God even died like us. In the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Word is, “I love you and will never leave you.” God’s Word is, “I will forgive you whenever you need forgiveness.” God’s Word is, “I will do anything to be with you.” God has spoken such extravagant words of love and has given them to us in the flesh of Jesus Christ.
“From his fullness we have received grace upon grace.” God has heaped on unconditional love in piles upon piles. It would have been enough for God to love us subtly. It would have been enough for God to just trust that people would get the message of God’s grace through stories already recorded in Scripture-in the Old Testament. It would have been enough for God to have sent John the Baptist to deliver a message about how God cares for us. But God didn’t leave it to our imaginations to figure out the extent to which God loves us and God didn’t pass us an innocuous love note. God went to the streets of the earth shouting God’s unconditional love. Healings, teachings, meals, miracles, exorcisms, feedings, and Christ giving his life on the cross- in each act God is there in the flesh, showing us God’s heart.
When we are lost in the dark, scared and hurting, we need to hear a word from God. When our hearts cry out, “Do you even care about what is going on down here?!” we need to hear a word from God. God has answered us in the person of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. God has revealed God’s very heart to us and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we have heard God’s life-giving grace-upon-grace Word, “I love you and I am with you always.”