What do you get when you cross a far eastern electronics factory with Google translate? No, it’s not a weird cracker joke, although it sounds like one. The answer is Chinglish.
Chinglish – that glorious mish-mash of Chinese and English that happens when you translate instructions word-for word. There is the famous sign in the dry-cleaner’s window that says, ‘Gentlemen must drop their trousers here’, for instance. The words are all correct but somehow the meaning has got mangled.
We can often tell what it should be – ‘Carefully hits to the forehead’ or ‘There is a bitten thing. Do not put the finger’. My personal favourite however, is ‘Do not disturb, tiny grass is dreaming’. So much more poetic than ‘Keep off the seeded area’, don’t you think?
These are funny, but if the meaning is important, such as with instructions, then losing that meaning in the translation is not so funny.
A different way that we lose meaning is through familiarity. We hear the same passages of scripture over and over again at Christmas, and while familiarity might not breed contempt for a well-loved text, it certainly can dull its keen edge. We know the words so well that we stop listening. And that is a pity, because today’s passage is full of truth and beauty, if only we could hear it as if for the first time.
So I’ve chosen probably an unfamiliar version – The Message – to help us to do just that. This is a paraphrase rather than a word-for-word translation. It is trying to create the right ideas in our minds, to form concepts from words, to weave the eternal into our time.
Let’s a take a few minutes from our festive feasting to taste the goodness of the Lord, as the Psalmist puts it. We are going to spend a little time not listening to me, but quieting our hearts to listen to God in amongst the holly and carols.
You will need plain paper and pens / pencils / crayons. We are simply going to listen to the text in the not-familiar version.
If you want you can respond by writing, drawing, doodling, listing, noting – whatever seems to fit. Or your response might be to mull over the words in your mind, perhaps selecting just a word or a phrase that seems to stand out to you. You do not have to take in the entire passage. You may like to write the phrase, decorating it in a way that fits. You may simply wish to rest in the company of God’s word, as with an old friend.
But first we will get ready to listen.
Have all your equipment to hand and sit comfortably. Close your eyes and take a few moments to still your mind and body. Notice yourself breathing in and out.
As you breathe in, imagine breathing in the Holy Spirit; he who inspired the Scriptures and makes them clear to us.
As you breathe out, imagine breathing out your distractions and worries of the day.
Now listen as someone reads the passage slowly, pausing between the sections.
Afterwards, keep the stillness for a few minutes to let it soak in. You may use the paper and pencils while listening, or afterwards or not at all. It is up to you. Just let the Bible soak in.
Finally, gather your thoughts with the prayer below, or any other prayer.
Word-become-flesh, Life-Light, Word of the Father
You moved into our neighbourhood
and we see your glory with our own eyes,
your one-of-a-kind glory.
You have made us to be our true selves,
our child-of-God selves, God-begotten.
Your Life-Light blazes out of the darkness;
the darkness cannot put it out.
Even so, Come, Lord Jesus
Click here for a printable children’s activity PDF
Print the pages back-to-back for a mini booklet.
John 1:1-14 The Message
The Word was first,
the Word present to God,
God present to the Word.
The Word was God,
in readiness for God from day one.
Everything was created through him;
nothing—not one thing!—
came into being without him.
What came into existence was Life,
and the Life was Light to live by.
The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness;
the darkness couldn’t put it out.
There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.
The Life-Light was the real thing:
Every person entering Life
he brings into Light.
He was in the world,
the world was there through him,
and yet the world didn’t even notice.
He came to his own people,
but they didn’t want him.
But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.
These are the God-begotten,
The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighbourhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish.
The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson