25 December 2020

St Dunstan's Anglican Church Camberwell

Christmas Day 2020

Isaiah 9:2-7

John 1: 1-14

‘In the beginning was the Word’.This Gospel of John begins at the beginning- not the same beginning as Matthew with his genealogy- which is certainly a logical place to begin, and not the same beginning as Luke who tells us the details that precede the birth of Jesus, but rather at the absolute beginning, at least for us, the moment of creation. The prologue of John begins, I think like an epic. Whoever wrote this Gospel clearly had an education and was steeped in Greek thought. He juxtaposes the two concepts of Word and God. In the Hebrew text God speaks and things come to be- John names ‘Word’ as a separate entity, in some sense, and as the prologue unfolds we begin to understand that this word is the Christ, the anointed one, who is born as the baby Jesus. John doesn’t mention here, the Spirit that danced on the waters, because his focus at this moment is the Word, but he will get to the Spirit later in the narrative., so exploring the whole Trinity, joined together in perichoresis.

So is this a new creation? The book of Revelation describes a new heaven and a new earth, but I think that John sees this as a continuous act, that the creator God continues to work through the Word. In each new life, whether it be human or in the rest of creation, is bound up in the Life that is the Word. ‘And the life was the light of all people.’ So now we have arrived at John’s great binary- light and dark. This is very Greek and doesn’t sit so well with us in the postmodern world. I remember hearing a person say that you can’t have light unless there is darkness and it is well not to forget that it was in the darkness that God began God’s creation. The order came from chaos, the light can only shine in darkness. John hints at conflict in his statement that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. The idea that Jesus came to restore relationship between God and all of humanity, that God so loves the world that God sent God’s only begotten Son, does not obviate the fact that there is resistance. This idea of darkness being the place that humans walk, or that some humans walk, is also in the magnificent passage that we read from Isaiah. The prophet is both celebrating the birth of a new king, they think Hezekiah, and anticipating the coming of the light in the form of the Messiah. The people of Israel had lived under a cloud, first the Assyrians and then the Babylonians had subjugated them and hope had been hard to find so the image of people walking in darkness was apt. The great light that was coming into the world was going to shine upon them. And who was this light? We read it as being Jesus, born in Bethlehem, Son of David. Another thing that John tells us is that we have standing as God’s children. We have it translated as ‘power to become children of God’ but it is closer to ‘authorisation’- God is the author of mankind and the authority on humanity, so that we can be God’s children. 

And this is the incarnation, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, bringing in the light, and displaying for us God’s glory, full of grace and truth. The birth of a baby is a very ordinary event, happens all the time. At the same time for many parents it is a moment of wonder and delight, a moment also that gives one a new understanding of one’s humanity and mortality.

And this is what God chose, in the incarnation, the putting on of flesh, the body but also the intellect and the emotions of a human. God chose both the mundane and the extraordinary that lies at the heart of human existence. This action of incarnation is one of solidarity with humankind. We creatures of God have always imagined the gods to be so much beyond us, and yet we are offered a God who dwelt right here, born into the normality of our existence, a fragile and vulnerable baby, just the same as each of us.

Let me read you a poem by Malcolm Guite, called,  

‘Descent’

They sought to soar into the skies,

Those classic gods of high renown,

For lofty pride aspires to rise,

But you came down.

You dropped down from the mountains sheer,

Forsook the eagle for the dove,

The other gods demanded fear,

But you gave love.

Where chiselled marble seemed to 

freeze

Their abstract and perfected form,

Compassion brought you to your 

knees,

Your blood was warm.

They called for blood in sacrifice

Their victims on an altar bled,

When no one else could pay the price,

You died instead.

They towered above our mortal plain,

Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn,

Aloof from birth and death and pain,

But you were born.

Born to these burdens, borne by all

Born with us all ‘astride the grave’,

Weak, to be with us when we fall,

And strong to save.

Guite’s point is that the incarnation of the Word was contrary to all expectation. That God almighty, omnipotent, omniscient, pantocrator, and all the other big ideas, could put God’s-self into a baby, ‘take frail flesh and die’ as Samuel Crossman described it, is the scandal of the cross. Instead of asking for homage God loved us enough to take on humanity, shared our joys and sorrows. ‘And we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth,’ in the person of Jesus born in Bethlehem.

This solidarity is, I believe, not so much about our propensity for sin, but rather an affirmation of our likeness to God, the fact that we are made in God’s image, even though humanity often chooses not to live like that. This is an action offering us salvation, yes, but it is also an act of solidarity. God is wth us, Emmanuel. God is for us, in the baby Jesus.

And God never stops being the creator, God is always bringing light, full of grace and truth. 

This is the paradox of the incarnation, that God could choose to be human, while still remaining God. All powerful and yet a human baby.

This light, that is the Christ, can not be extinguished by the darkness of the world because of the relationships that we have with Christ, sealed by the Holy Spirit living in us. This is the God of relationship who chose humanity who brings his light into the world through us. You are the light of the world, he tells us, so we must not hide our lights under a bushel, but like John testify to the light. 

This Christmas, in the darkness of COVID, when nothing is quite as we have hoped and expected of Christmasses in the past, we can give glory to God through our love for others. We can show our love for the baby, Jesus, by loving the people around us. We can celebrate God with us in the incarnation, God becoming flesh in the way we care for others, and like the Word, in the power of the Spirit give glory to God, full of grace and truth.

Rev. Roberta Hamilton