There was once a young man who was beginning his spiritual journey in the religious life. He sought the council of an old man who was well versed in spirituality, and asked him what all he must do to live a disciplined religious life. The old man opened his Psalter and read the first verse of Psalm 39: I said, I will keep watch upon my ways, so that I do not offend with my tongue. “STOP!” cried the young man as the older was about to proceed; “when I have learned that I will come and receive further rules.” And so he went away and at the end of six months, the older man, curious about the progress of the younger, sought him out and asked, “Are you ready to continue with the other lessons?” “Not yet,” he replied. “I have not yet mastered the first one.” Another five years passed and curiously the older man again sought out the younger. This time the young man replied, “I have no need of the other lessons, for, having learned that first rule, to master the tongue, I have gained discipline and control over my whole nature.”[i]
The past couple of Sundays, we have been hearing portions of the Letter of James. I am struck by one of the Letter’s reoccurring themes: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness; if any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.[ii] Considered “Wisdom Literature” of the New Testament, the author of the Letter is admonishing his audience to put right words into right action. Certainly, he seems to know something about the nature of speech. His use of metaphor instantly captures our imaginations and brings into focus a truth that is both easy to comprehend yet difficult to master. This morning we read: Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. Bits in the mouths of horses, small rudders guiding large ships, great forests being set ablaze by small sparks: all of these poetically call into question our mastery over this small, unruly member of our body: the tongue. With it, he says, we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. You might summarize this major theme of James’ Letter this way: words matter. What is your experience of this? What metaphor would you use to illustrate the power of speech? How have you come to know that words matter?
1 John 2:18-21
On this last day of the current year we can look back over the year now coming to an end. We can repent of our failures, and we give thanks for our blessings.
As we look forward to the New Year about to begin we can expect challenges. We should look with courage and hope, and we give thanks for rewards.
The angel of the Lord announced unto Mary;
And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord;
Be it unto me according to your word….
Thus begins the Angelus, at Morning and Evening Prayer here in this chapel. Most of the year–we do something different in Eastertide. The Angelus is based on the passage from Luke that we’ve just heard. With the addition, the important addition, of John 1:14. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Word who was with God in the beginning, who was God; the Word through whom all things came to be. The Word, the Logos, of God became human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. The Incarnation. The Angelus is in part a salute to the Virgin Mary and a request for her prayers. It is also a proclamation of the Incarnation and, in the concluding prayer, a concise summary of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ. A good way to start the day.