Sunday 24th December 2017
The Blessing Of The Crib & Midnight Mass 2017
First Reading: Isaiah 52: 7 – 10
Second Reading: Hebrews 1: 1 – 4
Gospel Reading: John 1: 1 – 14
And the Word became flesh…
Many years ago, after tiptoeing ever so carefully for a very long time round the edges of the Church, afraid of being pulled deeply into something I just knew would take up too much of my time having fun, God got rather tired of my evasiveness, picked me up by the scruff of the neck and threw me into the waters of baptism and then into the deep end of the turbulent, often confused pool called the Church of England. After surfacing, I decided it would be good to get to grips with my decidedly prickly relationship with the Almighty. And in a rather casual discussion at theological college, someone asked what – for me – was the most significant passage in the Bible. How to choose among so many meaningful words? Well…after deciding that I could only cope with working my way through the New Testament, a lot of things came and went in my head. But I always returned to the wonderful gospel reading we’ve just heard. How could I get any more significant than, “the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Or, as the original text says, pitched his tent among us, with all those middle eastern implications of welcome and freely offered hospitality, acceptance and protection.
This is the very start of John’s Gospel. His Gospel doesn’t list lines of descent, or have birth stories limited to a particular location in time and space. John’s opening lines echo the first few words of the whole bible, in the Genesis story of creation. John’s beginning is God’s relationship with everything created, through the Word. Without the Word, not one thing came into being. This Gospel places the cosmic Christ’s origin even before the start of time – the Word was with God, who was there in the infinite eternity before the Big Bang. And the Word, which was with God, which was God, eventually entered into a human existence, the person we know as Jesus where the divine became inseparable from the human. The Word became flesh, Emanuel, God with us.
Just think for a minute about that incredible, almost arrogant assertion: God became a human being and lived on earth just like any one of us. What …? To quote one of our more colourful personalities, “You cannot be serious.” Can we believe that God could be seen and recognised as a normal, real person? Someone who laughed and cried, and got angry, went to parties, who most definitely loved and was loved. But this is the mystery: that in Jesus, God was now visible, touchable, could be known. Became enfleshed, but not merely a divine “something” covered up by a human shell. The Word became actual flesh, this stuff, skin and bones and blood and all the rest; so that it could be revealed to the world, personally, intimately. Absurd, isn’t it. Yes…well, God’s like that. Not afraid to be absurd or vulnerable; to want to experience the reality of creation, to walk alongside us, and share it all.
The word becomes flesh in Jesus who then becomes our bridge to the otherwise unknowable God. He is where we meet God, the One who before the incarnation was remote, external, incomprehensible. In Jesus, God knows about being tired, angry, frustrated, sad, happy, inspired, knowing pain and all the other things we live with; so that when we rejoice, God rejoices with us, and when we suffer, God is in our pain. We can remember that God knows what it’s like because the God in Jesus has been there too. One mystery of faith is that Jesus is inseparably both fully human and fully divine. And if we think that Jesus himself was anything less than completely human then he’s not like us and there is no bridge, no personal connection. God stays as that remote “other”.
This is the unique distinctiveness of Christianity among mainstream religions, that God decided to share our life totally so that we in turn might experience something of the divine, even share that divinity. Here is what we celebrate tonight; at the heart of that precious glittering gift which God offers to us, the perfect diamond which the church calls the incarnation. The incarnation which shows the unlimited love of the Creator for all creation. In that sharing, God voluntarily takes on becoming – us. It’s OK that it stays a mystery; not as something to be solved, but rather as something we’re able to leave outside the scope of our ability to know as fact. It’s OK to wrestle with the unknowing and doubt. It’s OK to believe it without needing to understand intellectually, because we can’t. But we can believe that God is shown to us in the person who was Jesus, the life which was the light of all people, and who still lives for us now. The one who gives us power to become children of God.
We constantly face the darkness in both ourselves and in the world. At this time of national and international, perhaps personal uncertainty, fear, confusion, mistrust and clouded futures…the light of God, our Light we see in Jesus, shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it. Because ….the Word was made flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory.
Not only 2000 years ago, consigned to history.
God with us is now residing.
The Lord is here.
©Leslie Spatt 2017