I was intrigued to read in ‘The Week’ that Chinese visitors to Britain face difficulties – there are no Chinese names for many British attractions. Apparently. So tourism officials are inviting them to devise their own names and post them online. So far it seems that Llanfairpwllgwyngyll in Wales is ‘Word Puzzle Town’; Hadrian’s Wall is ‘Mountain Earthworm’ and the building in London called (or is it dubbed? I don’t know!) the Gherkin is ‘the pickled little cucumber’. I have heard that both German and French are concerned that new words entering their languages – often in relation to new tech-nology – are the English words. Conversely we know that there are words in other languages for which there is no direct or easy translation – consider ‘Schadenfreude’ from German. Scholarship supports the view that Eskimos do have many words for snow and sea ice and reindeer. Such words can define and discriminate in ways unavailable in English (unless we use many descriptive words). But since I don’t know them, I’m not sure how they would affect my perception, experience, and interaction with snow, sea ice and reindeer but I imag-ine that my world is ‘duller’, ‘greyer’, ‘not as alive’ com-pared with those with more or different words at their dis-posal.
Advent – indeed Christianity – but Advent draws attention to words – messages and messengers. As we consider Jesus’ coming into the world we have a voice in the wilder-ness calling out to prepare the way of the Lord. We have solo angels speaking about God’s action and a host of angels singing it. God’s action is the incarna-tion – the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.
Advent also gets us to remember and realise that Jesus comes to us through his Word whether written in the Bible or spoken based on the Bible and also when used with water, bread and wine. Whether in liturgy, preaching, teaching, counsel-ling, praying (think especially the prayer Jesus taught us), absolving, blessing, Jesus is present doing things or the Holy Spirit is directing us to him (or both). Advent also directs us to the future – to Jesus’ second coming – in all his glory for the world to see and our words no longer have rele-vance. Time will be up. There will be judgement.
Any judgement is a critical moment involving criti-cal words. This is the time for God to speak. The details of my life aren’t pretty – there is shame and guilt there – but those in Christ still don’t need to fear this judgement because of all the words heard so far – God is not about to change them! Yes, I’m a sinner. Guilty. But there’s a bigger ‘yes’, Jesus died for me and loves me and because of him, I’m forgiven, declared ‘not guilty’.
We often babble in this Babel-esque world. We may not understand the nuances of emotions or the physical world. We certainly can have confusion and misunderstanding even in the same language! We might imagine that in heaven we and everyone else will speak English. But I wonder whether it will be that all our languages will be able to carry new meanings so that we can truly know and be known together. We’re not required in Christianity to learn a specific language to be Christian. God can and does communicate humbly and here I often say ‘using words, water, bread and wine’ and that means God ‘fits’ himself into language so that we can know each other.
Here on this world we should learn languages. It does enrich life, I’m sure of it. And being truly alive – Jesus has come that people may have life and have it abundantly – means knowing the Word of God and I don’t mean first of all, the Bible, but Jesus whom we only know at our time of this planet’s history through the Bible and words based on it. — GS