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Trump hears Christmas homily about 'the power of words'

| Monday, Dec. 25, 2017, 5:36 p.m.
President Trump and first lady Melania are escorted from their motorcade vehicle by the Rev. James R. Harlan, left, as they arrive for Christmas Eve service at the Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in West Palm Beach, Fla., Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017.
Carolyn Kaster | AP
President Trump and first lady Melania are escorted from their motorcade vehicle by the Rev. James R. Harlan, left, as they arrive for Christmas Eve service at the Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in West Palm Beach, Fla., Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017.

When President Trump and first lady Melania Trump attended Christmas Eve services at the Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea in Palm Beach, Fla., they heard a homily about the "power of words" and an individual's obligation to use his or hers to "bring light to our lives and to the world."

Bethesda-by-the-Sea's rector, Rev. James Harlan, began his homily Sunday night with an appraisal of the power of God's words, as well as our own. "We know the power of speech, of words," he said. According to the White House pool report, Trump was seated in the third row.

Harlan quoted Nelson Mandela, who said: "It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die."

"Words matter," Harlan continued. "Proverbs 18, for example says death and life are in the power of the tongue. Words can build up or tear down. Words can speak truth or obfuscate truth. Words convey information, emotion, motivation." Harlan spoke about the healing power of God's words, which, according to biblical teaching, were used to create the universe. And Harlan said that, "your words and mine can have as much destructive and divisive potential as creative and healing potential."

Harlan ended his homily on a note of instruction for the worshipers, saying, "Let that light shine in our words and our actions in our love for every human being."

During his presidency, Trump has aligned himself politically with white evangelical Christians; he has an influential informal committee of evangelical advisers who have encouraged decisions such as the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The Episcopal Church is generally considered to be a more progressive institution. The Trumps were married at Bethesda-by-the-Sea in 2005, and he attended the church's Christmas Eve services in 2016 after his election.

The Trumps are spending Christmas at Mar-a-Lago, the president's resort in Palm Beach.

You can read a transcript of Reverend Harlan's homily below, or watch it here beginning at roughly the 55-minute mark.

"In the beginning, in the beginning before and beyond you and me before and beyond this country, and this culture, before and beyond even this planet: in the beginning, the Gospel According to John tells us, was the Word. The Evangelist takes us all the way back, all the way back, to the beginning to put this evening's celebration in the right context. Back to the beginning where God spoke and there was light. God need only say the word and the world comes into being. That is the power of God's creativity and love.

Our words are perhaps not so awe inspiring, but we know don't we? We know the power of speech, of words.

Nelson Mandela the great champion of racial equality in South Africa, who was imprisoned for almost three decades for standing up to a government that was repressing and racist and all of that. Nelson Mandela knew the power of words. He said: "It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison have done anything to us it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.

Words matter. The book of Proverbs talks often about the power of words. Proverbs 18, for example says death and life are in the power of the tongue. Words can build up or tear down. Words can speak truth or obfuscate truth. Words convey information, emotion, motivation.

When God created the universe, the book of Genesis tells us God did so by the Word, speaking saying, "Let there be light." And there was. That word of God, that word through which God loved and lovingly brought this whole world into being, that word became flesh to live among us to live within us, in Jesus Christ. The word of God is more powerful and more transforming than any word you or I could possibly utter. And the gospel according to John tells us that that Word brings light, pure light, light that casts away the darkness of fear and pain. Light that offers the only real possibility of reconciling with enemies, of welcoming strangers, of truly loving one another, of truly knowing ourselves.

Your words and mine too often give voice to and empower the darkness that sometimes seems to loom so large. Your words and mine can have as much destructive and divisive potential as creative and healing potential. But God's Word, made flesh in Jesus, whose incarnation we celebrate on this holy night, that word is perfect and pure light.

That word is light that casts out darkness and fear. That word creates within and around us love and peace. That word enlightens us to see who we truly are: beloved children of God. And herein lies, I think, the greatest miracle about this light, this light of God's love. This light that became flesh in Jesus is also within you and me. The light of God's love and Jesus is at the core of who we truly are. That creative healing light of God's love is longing to shine forth from within you and from within me to bring light to our lives and to the world.

That light of the love of God in Christ wants to shine through to enlighten our minds to bring peace to our hearts to heal our deepest hurts.

I wonder tonight where is that light of God's love shining most brightly for you? Don't get consumed or distracted by the darkness, even though I know that sometimes it seems difficult to ignore. Tonight and tomorrow and on from there, let's testify, let's bear witness like John did to the light of God's love that we know in Jesus Christ. Let's testify in word and action that no one need feel confined to the darkness. Not you, not me, not any person is beyond the light-filled touch of the word of God and Jesus Christ. Let's let that light shine in our words and our actions in our love for every human being. Let's let that light shining through us be our gifts to ourselves, to our families and friends, and to the world this Christmas."

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