Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2013
Readings: Heb 1:1-4, John 1
May I speak in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, at the risk of starting with the obvious, Merry Christmas to you one and all! 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.
My generation grew up with the very first home computers and I distinctly remember friends buying the Sinclair ZX-80 in kit form and labourishly typing in the program for some pretty rubbish games. On the arcade game front I was also around for the very first Space Invaders, which is a game that can now be played as a retro experience on a smart phone but which then took a computer the size of a telephone box. However despite the fact that I have grown up at the same time as the computer game industry, I have friends who work in that industry and other friends who seem to spend much of their time supporting that industry, I have to say that I have never been much good at computer games. I never lived close enough to an arcade to get good at Space Invaders and I could never sustain the interest for long enough to get really good at computer or console games. However the one game that I have really enjoyed playing in recent years is called Civilisation.
In Civilisation you look down on a landscape from above and you take command of a race of people and have to grow them into a world empire. You do so through a combination of trade, diplomacy and, of course, war. As you stand back from the action looking down on your world you can watch wars rage, cities grow or be destroyed and empire rise and fall across the ages. And, of course, although you are the immortal ruler of this empire your only interaction with the virtual world of one’s civilisation is through the screen and the keyboard – as you play the game you do not really experience the reality of life and death in your creation – there may be the thrill of winning or, more commonly in my case, the frustration of losing but, ultimately, one remains unaffected and untouched by the action taking place on the landscape far below.
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 creation in much the same way – watching civilisations rise and fall, cities grow and decline and peoples wage war on one another but, ultimately, there being a great gap between God somewhere ‘out there’ looking down on us while we are ‘down here’ living the reality and that never the twain shall meet. Of course the whole point of Christmas, and in fact the whole point of Christianity, is that the twain do meet – that God chose to be born into his creation in order to bridge the gap between heaven and earth.
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 very words “In the beginning…” echo the very first words of the bible in Genesis 1 which recount the creation of all things and John makes the point even more strongly by saying:
“…All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
And so the eternal and creative Word of God that 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 always looks very sweet and pastoral with angels and shepherds, donkeys and doe eyed baby animals 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. We tend to see few primary schools or Sunday schools doing re-enactments of the slaughter of the holy innocents but that is also an important part of the meaning of God being born into our world – 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 become 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 climbed through the screen and was born into the game: he brought light into the darkness and the darkness will not overcome that light, no matter how much they try. 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 ‘say’ to God.