CHRISTMAS DAY 2012
‘The Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us’
One of the advantages of Christmas here in New Zealand is that we get Christmas first! I guess that that means we don’t have to wait as long?? 🙂 But as I’ve been keeping up with friends around the world this past few days, it’s been fun to see them half a day or more behind where we are in terms of their Christmas festivities – and so yesterday morning I heard from a friend in the UK who had just finished their nativity play – and the alarming news that with two minutes to go, they’d lost ‘the baby Jesus’!! The doll that was Always ‘the baby Jesus’ was kept amongst lots of others in a big cupboard of toys for the little ones and with two minutes to go before the service, someone noticed they hadn’t got the doll had gone to the cupboard . . . to discover that the cleaner had had a clean out and the doll had gone!!!
Well, fortunately a little girl at the service had brought her doll with her, and was more than happy for it to take the starring role!!
Yet for all we sing ‘Away in a manger’ and have our crib services, the gospels really aren’t written to have us cooing over ‘the baby Jesus’ – rather the text of the familiar stories as told by Matthew and Luke are far more concerned with telling us the story so that we might be drawn into it and allow it to address us. All these thoughts about the fragility of a baby, about his humble origins are not the concern of the evangelists – rather the way they tell the story is to get us asking the question ‘Who Is This child?’ – Who is this child that Emperors have restless nights because of – Who is this child whose coming requires God’s Spirit to move over the face of the deep as once of old he had Bringing Life out of nothing, a baby from a virgin? Who is this child who causes the angelic host to be seen once more – who is this child who is born in Bethlehem, the City of Old King David, and yet who finds the door of the inn slammed in his face (there is no kindly innkeeper in the narrative) – Who is this child whom Shepherds worship and herald?
And in a sense there is little point us reading Luke and Matthew’s’ account at Christmas – for they are telling the story of Jesus from its human beginnings – it is if you like the beginning of the biography. And at the beginning we cannot see the end – the whole. It is only Mary and Joseph who are told – Joseph is told that this child ‘will save his people from their sins’ – Mary is told ‘He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end’ It all lies in the future – Faithful Israel will ponder all these things in her heart, but Luke and Matthew tell the story from its beginning and cause us to ask the question which the rest of their gospels are written to answer – Who is this child?
John however, tells us it not only from the end, but from before the beginning and beyond its end. John, as we hear at our annual carol service ‘unfolds the great mystery of the Incarnation’
And so that is why as we the people of God gather to Celebrate Christmas – we read John. For John reveals all the breadth, the height and the depth of the reality of this child – when we read John we read the True meaning of Christmas – and It is So big it is like swimming in a vast Ocean of meaning and Truth.
What does John tell us about this child?
This child is the eternal Word of God – He is God’s Very Truth and Life and Light – This child has always been with God – This child is the one through whom everything that has been made was made – This child is the means of Life coming into the World – a Life that gives Light to all people, This Child, this LIght is overcome by nothing, not even death can hold This Child.
John of course knows the Nativity stories – he knows how there is no room for this Child – he came to his own – to the Very city of David – and his own knew him not – the World did not know him – Imperial Rome did not come to pay tribute – only to extract it
But to all who received him, He gave power to become children of God! John is So careful here in setting out what this means – children born not of blood – or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man – children born not by biological process – not by human desire – but born of God. As John knows of the Virgin birth, so he points to the birth This child heralds. This child – ‘the baby Jesus’ whose birth we focus on – as we truly turn our hearts and minds to him – becomes the source of Our Birth
Perhaps this is why we want to sentimentalise the story – as I said a few weeks ago, we don’t want to drag in the evil Herod into our Christmas plays – we want to keep it safe – because in the end this child opens the door to the most dramatic and challenging possibility of all. A possibility that calls our very Life into question – that of our own rebirth as God’s children, born from above, born of the Holy Spirit – as that which was within Mary was conceived of the Holy Spirit.
This child – The one who fulfils the impossible possibility of the LORD through the prophet Ezekiel – I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. As the Virgin Birth of Jesus heralds an impossible possibility, so too, perhaps even more so it heralds the impossible possibility of the transformation of our hearts – that we might be like Him – the Firstborn.
The birth of Jesus into our flesh, opens the door to our birth into HIs Life – this child
And the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us and we have beheld his Glory, Glory as of the Father’s only begotten, full of Grace and Truth.
All through Advent we have considered how to be ready – how to prepare our hearts – yet aside from turning our hearts and minds to him there is nothing we can do – He is the one who when we contemplate HIm transforms our hearts. The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us – literally tabernacled amongst us.
Of old the children of Israel had camped in the Wilderness – three tribes to the east, three to the South, three to the west and three to the north – all facing the centre – the tabernacle – the dwelling place of God, where the Glory of God dwelt above the ark of the covenant – the pillar of cloud by day, the pillar of fire by night. Now he dwells once more amongst his people – that we might behold his Glory and so be changed ourselves from one degree of glory to another
I guess we will all go from this place today to celebrate with much food and more – but I pray we will all take the time to Swim – not in the cold Southern ocean – but deeply into these words of John and into the Wonder of This Child – and so rejoice evermore deeply and truly in our celebration of His Birth. That our Christmas might be truly Merry and Happy and Full of Joy and Light and the Life of Christ.