What is in a word?

I thought that was going to be an easy question to answer. Take the sentence “The red bus was going along the road”, for example. A word like “bus” refers to an object, in this case a particular type of vehicle. “Red” tells us the colour we see. “Going” tells us what it was doing; “along” tells us how; and “the road” tells us where. It is a bit more complicated when you have to explain what “the” means – I know it is a “definite article” but that only requires more explanation. Then there are feelings like “travel-sick” or “love” which you can’t see. To cap it all there are words which have more than one meaning. “Love” is a good example because it can mean “romantic love shared between two people” it can mean “the bond between parents and children” and it can mean a strong liking for some object as in “I love chocolate”. Or there are words which change according to context such as the word “perfect”.

To perfect something is to take something that is not perfect and by some process make it so. To be perfect is to already be just right. Used as a verb it suggests an aspiration; as an adjective it suggests you have already achieved it.

Words can be used to describe objects we can see and touch; or feelings we experience; or to try to communicate ideas and ideals we strive for. Generally speaking we use words to try to make sense of what we see and know so that other people can also see and know what we do. It gets more complicated with poetry, jokes and puns but these also have in common the possibility of being shared with other people.

Christians sometimes refer to “the Word of God” which turns out to be both specific and ambiguous. It is specific because it refers to God communicating with the world. It is an expression of God’s truth and the intention is that human beings can and will share that.

It is ambiguous because sometimes it is taken to refer to the Bible – a book full of words and the source of inspiration for Christians of all ages – and sometimes it refers to Jesus Christ, who is the best expression of who and what God is.  I get the feeling that sometimes Christians forget what the Bible is for: it is a God-given gift intended to point us to Jesus.

So it is appropriate during Advent to thank God for the Bible, while remembering that its duty (and our reading of it) is to lead to Jesus.

A prayer for the second Sunday of Advent

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning; help us to hear them, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. (Common Worship)

Advertisements