After the excitement and bustle of Christmas and New Year, there is a certain slowness about January. The days are short, the weather isn’t great, and, despite our resolutions, no one feels all that lively or full of energy. It is understandable, and thankfully the Lectionary gives us the opportunity to revisit some Christmas texts, to ponder the mystery of the Incarnation. While the world around us has taken their decorations down, in the Church we are still celebrating Christmas, and will continue so to do for some time yet. The awesome mystery of God taking human flesh and being born among us needs more than a day’s celebration. Indeed we could spend a whole lifetime pondering the wonderful fact that God has come earth to share our human life, and to bring about our redemption and restoration.
Today’s Old Testament Reading is from The Wisdom of Jesus son of Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus. This is a later writing in the Jewish Wisdom Tradition, dated to somewhere between 135-115 years before the birth of Jesus. It was written in Hebrew and soon after translated into Greek. Our reading this morning comes from the beginning of a hymn to Wisdom. Wisdom is likened to the Word of God, and so becomes important as a means of reflecting upon Jesus. This is especially true of the following verse:
‘Then the Creator of all things gave me a command, and my Creator chose the place for my tent.’ (Sir 24:8)
In John’s Gospel we are familiar with the verse:
‘And the Word became flesh and lived among us’ (Jn 1:14)
The word we translate as ‘lived’ actually means ‘pitched his tent’. John’s Gospel is looking back to the Jewish Wisdom tradition to understand the Incarnation, and to place Christ’s birth in a wider scriptural context. The author of Ecclesiasticus was looking forward to a Messiah, and now He has been born. The longed-for salvation has become a reality.
This assurance lies behind St Paul’s joyful greeting to the Christians in Ephesus. As Christians we have entered into a new relationship with God the Father:
‘He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved’ (Eph 1:5-6)
Our primary identity is as children of God, as brothers and sisters in Christ. This is through an outpouring of God’s grace — unmerited kindness and generosity because He loves us. This is the heart of the Christian Faith, and the message of Christmas: God loves us. How we respond to that love is our choice. Paul prays that Christ:
‘may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.’ (Eph 1:17-18)
Our hope is in Heaven, to spend eternity in God’s nearer presence, to join the Church Triumphant. And this is why Christ is born in Bethlehem: to give us this hope, to bestow this grace upon us. Through our celebration of Christmas we know that ours is a God who comes among us, who comes alongside us, who is not remote, but involved: a God of love.
Saint John take us back to the beginning so that we can see how things fit into the bigger picture. What we are celebrating at Christmas is something which extends through time, both in its nature and its effects. It is why we as Christians make such a big deal of Christmas – it isn’t just something nice to do in the middle of winter. Along with Our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection, the Birth of Jesus is the most wonderful and important moment of history, and it affects us here and now. What was made known to the shepherds, we now proclaim to the world. This is shown symbolically in the Feast of the Epiphany, where the Wise Men point to the manifestation of Christ’s Divinity made visible to the whole world — the recognition of God’s saving love:
‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.’ (Jn 1:14)
The reality of the Incarnation, of God with us, Emmanuel, is that God lives with us, sharing our human life, and showing us the glory of God. That which Moses hid his face from in the Book of Exodus is now made plain, and displayed for all to see. It is a proclamation of the glory, the love, and the goodness of God. This is shown by our adoption as children of God, when we are given an inheritance. This inheritance is eternal life and a close relationship with God who restores and heals us.
The last two years have shown us that humanity desperately needs healing and restoration. This is possible through Christ who can heal our wounds, and restore in us the image of the God who created us. We long for this, we pray for it, and, if we are willing to let God be at work in us, it can become a reality here and now.
So as we begin 2022, we are grateful that we are able to meet together in worship, and we look forward in hope to a future much brighter than the dark days we have endured. Let us walk in the light of Christ, and know the fullness of His joy. Let us be glad that as a pledge of His Love Christ gives Himself, to feed us with His Body and His Blood. Through the bread and wine of Communion we have a foretaste of Heaven. This is food for our journey of faith here on earth, so that we may know Christ’s love, and touch it and taste it. By participation in the Eucharist, physically or spiritually, we are strengthened to live that faith and to proclaim it by word and deed. So at the start of this new year, we pray that all the world may enter into His joy, live His life, and know His healing. We 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.