Sermon: Christmas Day 2009

Text: John 1:1

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I found this poem a couple of years ago. In fact, I think I had it put onto the noticesheet for Christmas a few years back, because I was struck by its exhuberance, and its simplicity. Today, on this most joyous of days, it comes back to me:

“She was five, sure of the facts, and recited them with slow solemnity, convinced every word was revelation. She said, “They were so poor they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat and they went a long way from home without getting lost.

The lady rode a donkey, the man walked, and the baby was inside the lady. They had to stay in a stable with an ox and an ass (hee-hee), but the Three Rich Men found them because a star lighted the roof.

Shepherds came and you could pet the sheep but not feed them. Then the baby was borned. And do you know who he was?”

Her quarter eyes inflated to silver dollars. “The baby was God.” And she jumped in the air, whirled around, dove into the sofa and buried her head under the cushion, which is the only proper response to the Good News of the Incarnation.”

Yes, the wonder, the joy of little Sharon, her inability to restrain herself is one way to properly respond to the awesome mystery that “God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (Jn 3:16).”

The only proper response to the Good News of the Incarnation.

But haven’t you found it true: When you love someone you strain to find ways to make that love known? Throughout the Old Testament the Jewish people testified to a God constantly straining to reveal that love in all of creation about us. Through the prophets and the psalms we had glimpses here and there of the wonder of our being, the wonder of one another, the wonder of our God; but we could not grasp the whole concept: that this God could take what it meant to be limited, to hunger and thirst, to know need for love and security, to fear and to suffer – the idea was beyond the human imagination.

It’s as though God said: “I’ve tried to tell you of my profound love for each of you in so many ways, but now time and my actions will speak its truth in ways you can grasp: And the Word was made flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. …From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace… No one has ever seen God. It is God the only son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him know (Jn 1:14-18).”

Our God has truly entered the human condition, a human condition that is not all clean and lovely, warm and welcoming as some Christmas cards would have us believe.

Our secular, consumer society has usurped much of the wondrous mystery of it all from under us. Have we not, as well, sanitized the whole scene? Have we not softened the rough straw with warm blankets; sprayed a fragrance to cover the smells of the animals; silenced the cries of Mary in childbirth; tranquilized Joseph in his fear as he cut the umbilical cord, and as he heard the first cries of this baby boy?

Then there were these strange shepherds who had come in off the field, unkempt, poor. Could not this have felt rather intrusive to Mary and Joseph in this shabby but sacred scene with their new born? Was there possibly a healthy hesitancy in Mary to hand them her baby to hold?

All of this followed by word that Herod was out to kill the baby; they must flee to another country: refugees, asylum seekers.

No longer can we say that our God could not understand what it’s like to struggle against the cold, to have to flee to another country, to be betrayed by a friend, to grieve the loss of a loved one, to fear suffering and or death, to experience a seeming absence of AbbaFather.

No, our God has truly walked our walk; God’s Word of Love has truly taken flesh. And the words of Jesus took flesh as well. He didn’t just say, “I love you,” to Zaccheus, but called him down from his tree top, offered friendship and sat at dinner with him. Jesus not only spoke of a God of mercy and forgiveness, but extended that forgiveness to a frightened, shamed woman standing alone with a pile of stones left about her, and to his friend Peter at a second charcoal fire. Jesus not only spoke of God’s Kingdom of justice, but he stood in solidarity with the poor and the outcasts. He not only spoke of a God who longs for our wholeness, but he touched a leper to clean skin, a stooped woman to straightness. He not only said, “I love you,” to the hungry crowd, but fed their hungers with truth and with bread. He didn’t just say, “I love you,” to each of us, but picked up a cross, suffered, died our deaths, and rose that we might know life eternal.

God’s gift to us may not be the right size or colour, but the present may not be returned, and we must each decide what to do with it. Yes, like Sharon, we could jump in the air, whirl round, dive into the sofa, and bury our heads under the cushion.

However, we could also say to our God: “I want to say that I love you, but time and my actions will speak its truth.” And the words were made flesh, as we try to be God’s loving presence for God’s people and God’s world today. A prayer attributed to St. Theresa of Avila says it well:

“Christ has no body now but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ’s compassion must look out on the world.
Yours are the feet with which
He is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which
He is to bless us now.”

So what’s it all about? Christmas everyday, as we gift one another, not necessarily with more socks, perfume or acomputer game.

No, in gratitude for the Incarnation, we now try to gift others with God’s saving love tangibly expressed. I believe that we saw this in Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who said: “…we believe God loves the world through us. Just as he sent Jesus to be his love, his presence in the world, so today he is sending us.” And her words were made flesh.

We may not be called to embody such love for the poor and dying in the streets of Calcutta, but perhaps we are called to embody God’s love in reaching out to the isolated, the anxious and the alone; by spending time with the young and disaffected on our street corners, the homeless and the addicted in our midst, the struggling young mum, the unemployed bloke.

Thus, we are called to make Christmas every day, so that a year from now we can say: The words were made flesh; and the love of Emmanuel, God-with-us, was made tangible for God’s people day after day in our little corner of the God’s world.

Oh, come, let us adore him.