Todays readings for Christmas Day Isaiah 9:2-7 Psalm 98 Hebrews 1:1-4 John 1:1-14
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.
Way back in the 6th Century BCE, the prophet Isaiah was anticipating the birth of a child. Isaiah also describes this child as a light that shines in the darkness. Generally, when we think about Christmas we also think about the birth of a child. We have lovely little crèche scenes, and delight in thinking about donkeys and lambs. And of course the birth of the child is a key moment.
John, however, rather than giving us a narrative picture of the earthly aspect, the birth of Jesus, with shepherds, angels, and Mary and Joseph, launches himself into a poem about the cosmic events that are just as real but much harder for us to grasp. Isaiah’s picture seems to me to be a kind of combination of the two.
John’s great poem reveals the divinity of this baby, and the relationship of Jesus the Christ, to God the Trinity.
John’s first words, “In the beginning” echo the great story of creation written for us in Genesis Chapter 1. These words take us back to the origin of everything. Now, neither chapter one of Genesis nor the first chapter of the Gospel of John offer any explanation for the “how” of creation, the science if you like, that is not their function. What they do is affirm that at the beginning God was. We find that an impossible idea because we are only able to think in terms of the temporal sphere, some of us can think in terms of the big bang, but before? The only certainty is that provided for us here, “In the beginning was the Word”. And of course we know that it was the Word spoken that caused things to be, we get that from Genesis 1, and again we cannot grasp the mechanism, only that it is. So here we have the origin of everything.
The next line in John’s poem says, ‘the Word was with God.’ If the first statement was about origin, this statement is about relationship. God and Word are somehow together. God is an entity with relationship built-in, the three persons of the Trinity exist in relationship to each other. This is also echoing the Genesis 1 account of God creating by means of Word, and then Spirit who danced upon the waters. It is to God, God’s-self that the statement is made that the creation is good. And the third line of this poem, ‘and the Word was God’ confirms the identity of Word, whoever that might be, as God. So here we have answered the three great questions of humanity, in reverse order, ‘Who am I? Who is with me? and, Where did I come from?’ John unpacks this a bit: “He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.’
And here we have the connection back to the baby that Isaiah was talking about, the son that has been given to the world, whom Isaiah referred to as the light that has come into the darkness. In the narrative account in Luke the light is provided by the angels, and in the narrative account given us by Matthew, the light is provided by a star, but John, like Isaiah, sees the light as part of the person of God.
Now all this sounds quite esoteric, unlike the baby in the manger, who is someone that we can all relate to. John does get to that reality. He first describes John the Baptiser, and his relationship to the light that has come into the world, and then he says, ‘and the Word became flesh and lived among us’.
This amazing statement encapsulates for me all the wonder of Christmas. This Word, who we have understood to be an aspect of the Trinity, and the great creative force of the universe, has become flesh, and dwelt among us. God, outside time itself, has entered our world and is indeed the baby, foretold by Isaiah, and seen in the manger by Luke’s shepherds. ‘In these last days,’ the writer of the letter to the Hebrews says, ‘God has spoken to us by a Son’.
We know the stories of Jesus, God with us. We know his passion for justice and righteousness, his power for salvation or wholeness. In this man, Jesus, born for us in Bethlehem, we can see the glory of God, ‘full of grace and truth.’
Jesus was a man who experienced life just as we do. He has lived our human life and this is the power of the incarnation- God has chosen to dwell with us, and to show us God’s glory in a form that we can comprehend. This is God that we can see, because he is light, and hear, because he is Word, and touch because he is flesh, and those who walked beside him for the brief period that Jesus walked the earth could and did do all those things and indeed, like John the Baptiser, could testify to the light.
So what difference does the incarnation make? What does it mean for us as humans that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us? Well, the consequence of the incarnation is that we can enter into the glory of God. We are enabled through the death, resurrection and ascension to be part of the recreation. The Holy Spirit dwelling in us transforms us from one degree of glory to another, in St Paul’s words. And this is life in the Kingdom of God. We have joined with God in the dance of the Trinity through the saving power of the risen Christ.
The Trinity, the Wonderful Counsellor, the Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace, call us to live in our world as its hands and feet. To be Christ incarnate in our world through the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God took on human flesh, human flesh has been transformed into the Body of Christ. And we can be actively the power of God in our world. We can be people who work for peace, people who love righteousness, people who like Jesus himself bring justice for the oppressed.
We are part of the Kingdom that Isaiah speaks of which he, the Son, will uphold with justice and righteousness from this time forward.
So how do we take our place in this world? ‘To all that received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.’ We become children of God when we follow Jesus.
Week by week and day by day we read of the things that Jesus said and did, we take part in the Communion with God both through the sacrament and through prayer, and then we live in the light, not in the darkness.
‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;’ Isaiah says.‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,’ John says. And this is the miracle of Christmas and the miracle of the incarnation. We can now live in the light.
The baby, born in Bethlehem has come so that we can see God’s glory, in the son, ‘full of grace and truth.’