Introduction and Call to Worship
Today we remember with joy the birth of Christ, God living among and with us, the child in the cradle opening his arms wide to embrace us with unrestrained love.
First Reading Isaiah 52:7-10
As the exiles returning from Babylon triumphantly sing God’s praise, so their song overflows with the good news of our redemption.
Second Reading Hebrews 1:1-4 [5-12]
The entire history of God’s relation with creation has laid the foundations for the coming of the Son at this time and in this place.
Gospel John 1:1-14
The all-powerful Almighty becomes vulnerable flesh to break open the rule of darkness, inviting each one of us to become children of the light.
HOMILY “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
When we read John’s magisterial opening poetic verses, especially at Christmas, we do so against a compelling backdrop of the birth stories as told in the other Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke. They are filled with domesticity, homely shepherds, reassuring angels and travellers from the east (whom we will hear more about at Epiphany!). John, by contrast, reveals to us a cosmic vision of the creator breaking into the very heart of his creation, coming among us. This is for John the Christmas story in a nutshell, that Jesus is God’s very presence among us, who was, and is and is still to come. This passage mirrors Genesis in its metaphors of light overcoming darkness – indeed we often think of Christmas in terms of light, don’t we? Hence we have decorated our houses, our high streets and even our church tower with lights – and in the northern hemisphere that makes complete sense as the shortest day of the year has just passed. The Church of England this year has adopted the image of a star for all its advertising and here at St Mary’s we have encouraged people to follow it. There is a star adorning the flag-pole atop our beautifully re-pointed tower to make that very point – that there is light, hope, joy and peace in this place – come, follow! And people have in their hundreds, and what a brilliant run-up to Christmas we have had.
“Christmas is the festival of re-creation” wrote Gregory of Nyssa, one of the Cappadocian Fathers. This season of celebration is God giving of God’s own life to his people, his own creative light to the world. It is as if God said: “I want humanity to see my face. I want them to hear my voice. I want to live their life. I want them to live my life.” John in his Gospel describes this participation of God in our lives as “the word became flesh and lived among us”. This is God, the divine human, holiness and humanity woven together in a relationship of love. And that love, that light truly overcomes darkness, just as the star of Bethlehem’s glow illumined the manger bearing God With Us – the Emmanuel child – Jesus.
All these metaphors – light, joy, peace, love: they are related, they are in relationship because they describe God’s creative activity in our world and not simply in a historical context but active in our world today. Christmas is more than a festival of life and light – it is a celebration of relationship, our new covenant with God, in which a wonderful exchange of life is recognised and experienced between God and us. The Son of God, born in the line of King David, is the son of man so that the daughters and sons of each generation to come might become sons of God. Divinity clothed in humanity so that humanity is clothed in divinity. Or as the great writer Irenaeus, Bishop of Smyrna from 140AD, wrote: ‘The Word of God, Jesus Christ, on account of His great love for mankind, became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.’
And what that means for each one of us is so exciting, because God knows what it is like to be human, to be us. God’s light – joy – peace – love for each one of us is freely given and it is there to experience, to know, to enjoy and to cherish. How incredible is that? Imagine what that means for you, for me, for the whole world, if only we could all recognise that not only are we all made in God’s very image, yet wonderfully diverse, but that God loves us all, so much that he chose to walk among us. Jesus is our experience of God made man, bringing God’s creative light into lives, then as he still does today. Friends, this means that each one of us is holy and intended to be holy, not as an achievement on our own but as a gift from God. This is the gift of Christmas – a relationship with the God of love who desires to be a part of our life.
John asks us to witness to God breaking through from the white-light purity of heaven into the rainbow-coloured diversity of creation. Yes, the Johannine world, in the prologue to his Gospel is introduced to us in darkness, the kind of black that speaks of an oppressor’s boot, like bloodthirsty and fearful King Herod or the might of the Roman Empire which can only be overcome by the all-pervasive light of God. Such light doesn’t play by darkness’ own rules and it certainly doesn’t blaze in as divine dictator, imposing the will of heaven upon us, nor arrive as a super-warrior, tramping iron-shod boots over all opposition. No, God chooses to come among us with an invitation: ‘Follow the star.’ ‘Follow me.’ ‘Come and see.’ God risks everything to live as us, growing from infant to man, illuminating love in action, and giving us the choice to decide for ourselves whether to accept or reject the light of his presence.
But it is hard to make good choices if we are living in the dark – we need the light of Christ to illumine our path, to enlighten our hearts. We must choose to follow the star…or not. So, friends in faith, this Christmas Day 2018, do we desire to follow that star and shine with God’s creative light? Do we desire to live in the light of hope? Are we willing to be the new creation and be God’s chosen people – be holy? John in his Gospel is right, for we have been given the power to become children of God. This happens not by blood or the will of the flesh or the will of people but by God and his invitation to us alone, because “the Word became flesh and lived among us”.
Seeing the presence of God in others is an essential part of the Christmas message but do we look for it, recognise that presence, that gift which is God’s love in others and to that end, are we willing to see God present in our own lives? Allow the light of Jesus, God made human, God among us, to shine in your life and through your life this Christmas and follow the star that leads to Jesus this coming 2019. Amen.
John the Evangelist invites us to witness to the creator’s unlimited love for creation as God cracks apart the rule of darkness through humility and vulnerability.
God’s Son coming to earth, not as a divine warrior but fully fleshed like us, offers hope that darkness is not all there is.
We are challenged to accept the love that God offers and, broken as we are, to reflect it back into the world through our spiritual, corporate and individual lives. We must follow the star!