Psalm 98, Isaiah 52: 7-10, Hebrews 1: 1-12, John 1: 1-14
This Christmas morning we gather here together whether in church or in our homes online to worship God on this “queen of feasts” as we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ over 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem. As the wonderful Prologue from St John’s gospel that we have just heard read puts it, on this day “the Word became flesh” – God became one of us in a tiny helpless baby. The divine became human in order that humanity might share in the divine life. On this holiest of days we celebrate how God, the all transcendent God, gets involved and immersed in creation. It is the story of an incarnational God, who becomes one of us in the form of a tiny baby. It is the most wonderful mystery and the most wonderful message that the world can ever hear.
The world was mixed in its response to the Word becoming flesh. The Prologue to St John’s gospel reminds us of the risk God took at the Incarnation:
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him”.
Jesus knew the pain of rejection…of rejection of the precious gift of himself. “But”, John’s gospel continues, “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God”. This is our greatest gift from God… to be called, through faith in Christ, God’s children. Many rejected Jesus and his message – and countless ever since. But some received him, and believed him to be God. And for those who believe in him, the privilege is granted of being children of God. This privilege is open to all of us.
Christmas is very much a time for giving – the gift of God to us in the birth of Jesus is echoed in our giving presents to our nearest and dearest. But of course John’s Prologue to his gospel also emphasises the need to receive. And receiving can be more challenging than giving, because it involves our acceptance of the gift.
Our world is in desperate need of a message of peace and hope. As this year of 2020 draws to a close, and we look back, we will be sadly all too aware of the tragic world headlines of this year. The global pandemic of the spread of Covid 19 has dominated everything else. There has been so much tragedy and serious illness and death across our planet this year that it has been hard to cope. Enforced isolation and restrictions on our lives have brought much hardship to so many. The beginning of the roll out of a vaccine has been a strong ray of light in all of this, nevertheless we still have a long way to go, and meanwhile people’s suffering is very real. The Christmas message speaks to such tragedy and says that nevertheless we have cause for hope. No matter what sufferings and evils take place in the world or in our own lives, God in Christ is always with us. The baby born at Bethlehem would one day experience horror himself in his manner of death by crucifixion. Yet God in Jesus Christ has become one of us, and so we can be assured that there is nothing we can experience that is beyond the scope of God’s love and redemption.
At Christmas memories come flooding back to us. They may be memories of long ago, perhaps of our own childhood Christmases. They may be the memory of the death of a loved one, especially if the loss occurred in the last year. Indeed at Christmas we often look back over the year and reflect on its significant events for us. And the events this year, due so many restrictions placed on our lives, may be a good deal less varied than in former years. We will all have our own particular memories of the year that is passing. Some memories will be positive. There have been many heartening stories of the kindness of people reaching out to help the most vulnerable. But there will also be poignant memories, tinged with sadness and grief and profound loss.
At the close of another year, we look back. But perhaps the supreme moment of looking back in history is to that humble stable in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago and the birth of a baby, born for us all. As our reading today from the opening of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it:
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son…”
The writer of the letter goes on to explain,
“He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word”.
The wonderful truth is that not only is Christ the reflection of God’s glory, but we too are made in God’s image. We too can participate in that divine nature.
The Church calendar holds many feasts throughout the year which serve to remind us of the history of our salvation. That is true no more so than today, Christmas Day. For today on this supremely joyous feast we celebrate God coming to us in human form, that we might be reconciled to God and share in God’s abundant divine life.
There is a delightful little poem written by St John of the Cross, the sixteenth century Spanish priest and religious, mystic, spiritual writer and Doctor of the Church, which goes:
With the Word Divine
The Virgin, pregnant,
Comes along the road,
If you give her lodging.
Today, the Virgin is no longer pregnant, she has given birth….Let us too give birth to Christ anew in the lodging of our hearts this Christmas Day.
Rev Sister Margaret Anne ASSP