Introduction and Call to Worship
On this Christmas morning let us thank God for love and for gifts, and especially for God’s loving gift of himself to all humanity, through the person of Jesus.
First Reading Isaiah 52:7-10
In poetry, Isaiah proclaims the coming of a messenger who will bring peace and salvation to all God’s people.
Second Reading Hebrews 1:1-4 [5-12]
The writer to the Hebrews sings of God’s Son, whom he describes as “an exact imprint of God’s very being,” worshipped by the angels.
Gospel John 1:1-14
John describes Jesus as God’s message to humanity; the Christ who has been with God from the beginning of time but lived on earth among human beings, bringing them truth and light.
HOMILY “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” (John 1:14)
What do you get if you cross an iPad with a Christmas tree? A pineapple! Ok, so nobody said I was funny – that would take a miracle and more than a few cracker jokes. The miracle of the first Christmas morning is that God was born as the baby in a manger at Bethlehem. Because of that, God is among us, the one foretold by the prophets, the ‘Emmanuel’. The baby’s parents, along with the poor shepherds and wealthy mystical visitors from the east bearing gifts, all recognize this new birth as very special, indeed unique. They were representatives of all humanity worshipping at the manger throne. At some deep level, they knew that this baby was not only a gift from God, but also the start of a new relationship that would bring about change.
Today, the media constantly bombard us with images and words – so much so that we often don’t even realize that messages are being sent in our direction. Some of this marketing is now so sophisticated that it targets us as individuals based on several factors like our internet browsing history, our age, gender and so on. Well, St John writing the prologue to his Gospel understands a thing or two about images and words as he describes the Incarnation as God choosing to be among us. John refers to Jesus as the Word made flesh. This is based on an ancient Greek idea of the Logos – God’s spoken words of authority – or a command, which was thought to be the founding principle of all life. He develops this idea in Christian thought that Jesus Christ was in the beginning, at the moment of creation, when God said, ‘Let there be light.’ John says that the Word was there from the beginning of time as ‘the Spirit moved over the waters’. (Genesis 1) For John, the image is simple: God is Jesus and the Spirit – they are one and the same.
Everything came into being through the Word, so what came into being was life itself. We have life, John says, through Jesus of Nazareth who is God on earth – the very name Jesus meaning the one who saves us from our failures.
John was writing at the end of the first century, many years after Jesus died, when the new Christian Church had already been in existence for two, three or more generations. But those early years were a struggle for the Church as Christians were violently persecuted. The celebration of Christmas that we enjoy today came later because in those early days survival was the priority. The Old Testament prophecies had always held the idea of a prior messenger who would be sent by God, preparing the ground for the coming Messiah and pointing towards him. The writer of John’s Gospel explains that John the Baptist came as a witness to Jesus, but was not himself the Messiah, rather the forerunner, the one who points to Jesus and his ministry to come.
With a few terse words, the writer goes on to summarise what will happen to Jesus during his life. He says that although the world came into being through Christ, the world did not know him. And although Jesus came to his own people, they rejected him. Then the writer departs quite radically from the old Jewish theology, for he adds that all who receive him and believe in him – Jews or Gentiles – would become God’s children. This new relationship between God and people is inclusive of everyone – make no mistakes – every single person, for all time and eternity. God has done something new and each of us has a part in that. Indeed, that is God’s ultimate Christmas present to each of us!
John’s prologue finishes by affirming that Jesus, the babe in the manger, through his life and death, was God’s message to all humanity, bringing God’s glory, grace and truth to all human beings. We may not be able physically to see Jesus today, but we can experience him because his Spirit – God’s Spirit – lives in us and among us when we gather in his name. Christmas really is God’s gift of himself, born as the baby at Bethlehem. And what an amazing gift that is! No longer is God remote from his people, living in a temple built for him or a tent of meeting. God is no longer out of reach in heaven and inaccessible because of our cultural heritage, birth or any other possible differential. Now God himself is close to every human being because he has shared in our experience of life and therefore can be reached through prayer and meditation as we offer our own lives back to the one who made us, who knows our sufferings, challenges, fears and hope. This is an enduring gift which never fails and never ends.
Because of that gift, we give presents to each other on Christmas Day, to show our love for each other. Christmas Day is a wonderful time of love and enjoyment, based on the Word of God, the baby born in the stable at Bethlehem. Christmas is really God’s gift of love to us – yes, a baby born in Bethlehem with visitors that reflect our diversity. But also, a personal gift of salvation and hope because God has come among us, and our God longs to know each and every one of us this coming year, more than ever. Perhaps Christmas really is the gift that just keeps on giving! Amen.
The baby in the manger is God’s message to human beings, described by St John as the Word of God – the Logos.
This is based on the ancient Greek idea of the Logos, the founding principle of the universe – that God spoke and all things came into being.
The Messiah’s own people reject him, but anyone who accepts him and believes in him becomes God’s child. John the Baptist was his herald.
Because of God’s amazing gift of Jesus, showing his love for all humanity, we give gifts to each other at Christmas, showing our love for each other.
This gift is given to each person and is an inclusive call to be in relationship with the one who created everything in the first place.