2022 has been a very eventful year, to say the least. The terrible war in Ukraine has led to the death s and displacement of so many and has affected us all. It is wonderful that members of our local community have opened their hearts and homes to welcome Ukrainian families. In the UK we have experienced unprecedented political turmoil, extreme weather, and the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The cost of living has increased dramatically and strikes have become a common event. It seems incredible that in one of the supposedly richest countries in the world, so many are reliant on food banks. The song which has become the Christmas Number 1 is all about people being cold and hungry at Christmas time. There is a deep need for the message of love and hope which the birth of Jesus brings.

The Christian Faith has at its heart an astounding and amazing fact which we are celebrating today: that God is born, as one of us, as a human being. He was born into a world which saw its gods as distant and strange.In the first century Jewish understanding God is utterly transcendent, other, and beyond our comprehension. It is hard to fully appreciate the idea that by the power of the Holy Spirit, God took flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was born today.

The birth of the Messiah had been foretold in prophecy, and in particular in the prophecy of Isaiah.

‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”’ (Isa 52:7)

Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and the embodiment of the Gospel of Salvation. He comes to bring comfort and redemption to both the people of Israel and to the whole world.

‘for the Lord has comforted his people; he has redeemed Jerusalem.’ (Isa 52:9)

Today our salvation has dawned, prophecy is fulfilled and the Saviour of the world is born. The message of Isaiah is one of joy. The birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, is Good News. This is because He comes to bring true peace to humanity. Our God reigns as a little baby, lying in a manger. Christ’s gift to us is peace and goodwill to all humanity, from those of us gathered here this morning, to those living on the other side of the world. Jesus can give us these gifts because He, who is born for us today, will die for us. The one wrapped in swaddling clothes now, will be wrapped in linen cloths in a tomb once He has died for us on the Cross. The beginning of Christ’s earthly life points to its end to remind us of the love of God for humanity. With joy the prophet proclaims,

‘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, for in Jesus’ Birth and Death we are saved. Likewise, the Letter to the Hebrews begins by mentioning both prophecy and Our Lord’s birth.

‘Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son’ (Heb 1:1)

The word is made flesh so that prophecy might be fulfilled, so that the hope of salvation might dawn, so that a people who have languished long in darkness might behold the glory of God where heaven and earth meet, in a stable in Bethlehem. This is truly Good News.

John’s Gospel begins by taking us back to the beginning of salvation history, indeed the beginning of everything, the Creation, and the start of Genesis. The point that John is making is that God speaks the universe into being. Not only that, the Word is now an infant, literally ‘one not speaking’ or ‘silent’, lying in a manger. The Word is silent, yet proclaims God’s love to humanity. 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.

At Christmas we ponder the awesome mystery of God:

‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ (Jn 1:14)

The Word becomes flesh in the womb of His mother at the Annunciation. God’s Son is born for us today, and will die for us, as to be human is both to be born and to die. Jesus is also raised from the dead to give us the promise of eternal life in Him. The Word will become flesh here, today, during the Eucharist, to feed us so that, ‘we may be partakers of the divine nature’, as today’s Collect puts it. God became human, so that humanity might become divine. Here in this wonderful exchange, earth and Heaven meet, and the restoration of humanity begins. The Kingdom of God is inaugurated, not in royal palace or temple, but in a stable surrounded by animals and shepherds. God is incarnate and lives with his pilgrim people on earth — sharing all of human life, from birth to death, so that we might share the Divine Life of Love. Our God is a relational God who invites humanity to share in that relationship, which is offered freely, to all people. The sheer exuberance of such an offer, is extravegant: it is generous in a way which defies our expectation and our understanding.

God is a God of mystery and paradox. We know that we can never understand Him, but we can experience His love. To quote from Sir John Betjeman’s poem ‘Christmas’:

No love that in a family dwells,

No carolling in frosty air,

Nor all the steeple-shaking bells

Can with this single Truth compare —

That God was man in Palestine

And lives today in Bread and Wine.

May we, therefore, take joy and strength from the love of God demonstrated through the birth of Jesus. Let us be filled with the Holy Spirit as we celebrate Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.

The Nativity – James Tissot (Brooklyn Museum)

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