Our Celebration, today and over the next few days of the Birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, is something familiar and yet strange. We are very familiar with the story, taken from the accounts of Luke and Matthew, and shown in countless Christmas Cards. And yet, there is something momentous, even mind-blowing, about the fact that God the Creator and ruler of all becomes incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and is born today in Bethlehem. God becomes helpless, vulnerable, and completely dependant upon Mary and Joseph. Today we are celebrating the fact that God takes a risk, and enters into the world as a human being, to live, to die, and to rise again, for us. Our Creator does this out of love for humanity, to fill us with His love and grace, and so that we might be transformed into His likeness, and spend eternity with Him.
The Four Gospels start their accounts in different ways. Mark’s Gospel begins with Jesus’ public ministry, Matthew and Luke have accounts of Jesus’ birth and infancy. John, however, goes back to the beginning, to the start of everything, the Creation of the Universe in Genesis Chapter One. In the beginning, before the creation of heaven and earth, Jesus was:
‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.’ (Jn 1:1-3)
In the Book of Genesis, God speaks the universe into creation. He does this through His Word, Jesus Christ. That Word is now made flesh, lying in a manger in Bethlehem. He has come to give each and every one of us life and light:
‘In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ (Jn 1:4-5)
Our experience over the last eighteen months or so has had its fair share of darkness, despair, and fear. And yet Christ, who is the Light of the World, has not been overcome. Our hope is in the Word made flesh, a light which no darkness can overcome or extinguish. We commit ourselves to this hope today, and every day, knowing that this is a God we can trust, a God who loves us. A God who has experienced all human life from birth to death. A God who knows our pain and our weakness, a God who heals.
We can have the confidence of the prophet Isaiah, to lift our voices in song, knowing that:
‘the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.’ (Isa 52:9)
Today God’s plan of salvation, the redemption of his people becomes a reality. A baby is wrapped in cloth and laid in a stone feeding trough, so that Jesus’ life begins as it will end. Christ’s Birth mirrors his Burial, so that He can be raised to New Life at Easter, before returning to the Father’s right hand in Heaven. With joy the prophet can proclaim:
‘and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.’ (Isa 52:10)
Today salvation has indeed come to the whole world, and the message of salvation, the message of the Church, can be proclaimed. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews understands that God speaks through his prophets, who look forward to the birth of the Son of God as the defining event, the turning point of human history. The Prophets tell us both how things are and how they will be. We therefore have a vision of God’s future, and the hope of glory in the one who is born today. We can glimpse true glory in the vulnerable baby lying in the manger, dependant upon others for love, and food, and warmth. God’s glory confounds our expectations, and that’s the point. God’s ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts ours. In the same way that God saves us: not because we are lovable and good, but so that we might become so. Humanity is saved in order to be transformed, and the role of the Church is to extend that transformation across space and time, through you and me, and the whole Christian family of believers.
Such is the mystery of God’s love. It is something so wonderful that we are not able to fully understand it, but we can experience it, and through experiencing it, we are transformed by it. As the twentieth century Anglican theologian, Austin Farrer wrote:
‘God does not give us explanations; we do not comprehend the world, and we are not going to. It is and it remains for us a confused mystery of bright and dark. God does not give us explanations; he gives us a Son. Such is the spirit of the angel’s message to the shepherds: “Peace upon earth, good will to men … and this shall be the sign unto you: ye shall find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.”’ [Austin Farrer Said or Sung, pp. 27, 28]
Or as St John puts it: ‘in him was life, and the life was the light of men.’ (Jn 1:4). Christ has come among us to transform us. We experience this transformation in Baptism, in the Eucharist. Sacraments: outward visible signs of inward spiritual grace — God’s generous love poured out on us to fill us and to change us into His likeness. And to bring this about God gives us His Son. Christ comes to give us life, new life, eternal life in Him. Freed from our past mistakes and transformed by the love of God, we can live the life of the Kingdom, the life of Heaven here and now. This is ‘glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (Jn 1:14), given to humanity so that we may live as God intended us to. Through Christ we are offered the chance to return to Eden, to see Creation restored, and all things set right. This is the reality of God’s love freely given to restore us to the fullness of life.
So let us embrace God’s love and encourage others to experience the true joy of Christmas. Let all humanity join with the angels to sing the praise of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever. Amen.