Readings: Heb 1:1-4, John 1:1-14
May I speak in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, I am not going to pretend that my feet are beautiful, in fact I have no doubt that Vivienne is saying something derogatory about them right now, but I am privileged to bring you good news, to proclaim peace, good tidings and salvation – Jesus Christ is born today – Alleluia!
This has been an interesting and at times a challenging year for us all, as indeed most of them are in their different ways. In this church we have been through a great number of changes with doubtless more to come as you move fully into a new pattern of ministry in the new year, the family and I have been through a sometimes traumatic process of finding a new place in which to live and minister, and in the wider world beyond our walls the hard economic times continue to make life really hard for many people. But despite these challenges we continue to hang on and God has been gracious to us once again and we are here to celebrate the mystery of God being born amongst us as one of us in order to save us.
Although it has been an interesting and challenging year, I did something in March this year which I have been wanting to do for while. I have long wanted to start an aquarium. In fact, don’t tell the wife, but during the course of the year I acquired two tanks and they are sitting on my desk looking great. One of the reasons I think I enjoy having the tanks is that you create and control this little piece of the environment – you build the landscape, you create the conditions to support life, you put the inhabitants in place and you try your best to keep everything alive and healthy. At the risk of psycho-analysing myself too far it is almost like having a God-like relationship with a little piece of creation – I sit at my desk looking in at the worlds I have created from the outside. When something goes wrong, if a piece of coral falls over or a pest starts growing then I roll up my sleeves, put my hand into the tank and put it right.
And I suspect that many people when they think of God, to the extent they spend much time thinking about God at all, possibly imagine him looking down on or into creation in much the same way – God being somewhere ‘out there’ looking down on us while we are ‘down here’ living the reality. And if things go wrong, how does God put them right? Is it right to expect a big hand to descend from the sky to pick things up and put them back together the right way? I sometimes think that even as Christians we expect God to do just that and when we pray out of our despair we would sometimes like nothing more than an all-knowing father to click his enormous fingers and to make it right.
To me the whole point of the story of the birth of Jesus is that it reminds us that God not sit outside the aquarium looking in – when things go wrong he does not roll up his sleeves and stick his hand into the water to put them right from the outside. Although it may be hard for us to imagine the point of the story of the incarnation is that God was born into his creation, as one of the inhabitants of the tank, in order to make things right from the inside.
The reading from John 1 reminds us that Jesus was not simply a special baby who was chosen by God to lead a good life, perform some miracles when he grew up and then be crucified. The Gospel of John reminds us that the baby whose birth we celebrate today was actually God himself:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
The eternal and creative Word of God, who was present at the creation of all things took on human flesh, he became one of us, and was born amongst us as this baby Jesus. The creator not only of this world but the whole universe who was entirely outside the constraints of space and time choose to be born as a baby in a particular place and time.
Although the nativity scene played by little children, of which we have had some great ones this year, always looks very sweet and pastoral we should not forget that Jesus was born into real danger and only a short time after the familiar tableau scene his family had to flee for their lives in order to escape Herod’s mass infanticide. The baby Jesus did not just experience the offerings of wise men, the worship of shepherds and the lowing of cattle – he also experienced what it is like to be a refugee fleeing from unjust murder and oppression, he knew what it was like to be homeless and to live in a foreign land in hiding from one’s own rulers. Jesus was an asylum seeker before he could toddle. And, of course, whilst Jesus escaped an untimely and unjust death as a baby he did not escape an untimely and unjust death as an adult. When God became one of us at Christmas it was not just the potential for danger and death that he experienced but it was actual danger and death that he suffered. We only celebrate Christmas because of the events of Easter – we cannot adore a baby laying in a manger without also adoring the life and teachings of the adult Jesus and, of course, the cross and the resurrection.
So why did God choose to give up eternity and to step inside a dangerous creation and to actually become a part of creation by becoming a person? Part of the answer to that question is played out in the events of Easter but John gives us part of the answer too:
“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”
The whole point of the incarnation, of the story of the nativity, indeed the whole point of the story of Jesus and hence of the church is that God intends to remove the divide between himself and his creation: God took on our nature and transformed that nature so that we could be not simply part of God’s creation but so that we could be God’s children.
Jesus was born into this world so that we could call God our Father.
God made his choice when he came into the world, when he was born as small fry surrounded by carnivores he brought light into the darkness and the darkness will not overcome that light, no matter how challenging the times in which we live. But each of us still has a choice: we can receive that light by saying ‘yes’ to God and become children of God and temples of the holy spirit, or we can continue saying ‘no’ to God and remain hidden in the shadows.
This Christmas I pray that each of us will receive the light of Christ and that the family of God’s children will grow, one soul at a time.
Have a Happy, Holy and Peaceful Christmas and remember that God loves you so much that he sent his one and only Son into the world so that you can have eternal life – and that eternal life starts not when you die but when you say ‘yes’ to God.