CHRISTMAS DAY REFLECTION 2016 John 1: 1-14
Well, here we are! Christmas Day! The shops are shut and most of the people driving about are on their way to get together with families and friends, preparing to eat a special meal and to exchange gifts. The Christmas ritual for many people, and it is special. We have come in here this morning, before getting on with the rest of these things, because, in one sense, for the Church, this is the beginning of the story of why we exist at all. It is one of the good days when we are drawn in by the extraordinary story about a baby, born in strange circumstances, 2016 years ago. This is the event that caused the big division in the marking of time – the change from BC as it used to be called (Before Christ), now known more as BCE, (Before Common Era) to AD (Anno Domini, the year of the Lord,) now known just as CE, Common Era. Even if Christ is taken out of it, it was an event that affected things dramatically. That re-marking of time remains.
Does that event still affect us? How does it speak to us here, in Lindfield, in 2016 CE?
This morning we have heard of the Word, the Word that was in the beginning, the Word that was made flesh and made its dwelling with us. Not the Christmas stable in Bethlehem, not the manger, the animals, the shepherds, usually muddled between Luke’s gospel story with Matthew’s Kings, or wise men, bearing gifts. John’s gospel instead gives us these wonderful, mysterious verses. The Word that spoke creation into being, the Word that brought light, light that darkness never can overcome.
So what is the word that we hear this Christmas morning? It is a short 4 letter word. I can see you thinking – hope? Peace? – no, that has 5 letters. Love? The word in question is one that is enormously significant. Sam Wells, the Dean of St Martin in the Fields in London maintains that it lies at the heart of our Christian faith. The word is “with”. This morning we are invited to see that God is with us. Sam Wells illustrates how far we have moved from understanding what this means by giving three examples. We can shape these into our own situations. An adult son is returning home for Christmas. He struggles to think about what to give his father for Christmas. He spends more money than he intended on buying something that his father makes an effort to appear delighted with. But what is clear is the gap that has arisen between them. In a second scenario, you have family or friends coming to stay over Christmas. You run yourself ragged trying to get the house right. There is a frenzy of shopping, cooking and baking. On the day, exhausted, you go into the kitchen to prepare the meal and reject any offers of help because you have it all under control. When people leave, they say “it is a shame we never really had a chance to talk”. In the third example, you are overcome with guilt about the people who are homeless, or alone, or in poverty. You turn your Christmas gifts into vouchers, buying, for example, a cow, or chickens for people who need such resources more than you or your friends.
These situations are about another word, which is “for”. We want to do things for people. Of course, that’s not a bad thing, generally. It is what we think good Christian people should do. As Sam Wells says, it all makes us feel kind of noble, like laying ourselves down to be a bridge over troubled water. None of this is wrong, per se. But it is a deflection from the heart of the matter that is shown to us today. God with us. Yes, God does so much for us. But God with us comes before everything else. “With” comes before “for”. God with us is about relationship. And that is what Christmas is about.
John’s gospel links together, so poetically, God who is Creator, whose Word spoke life. That Word demonstrates the Spirit whose creative energy is woven through everything. It is about Jesus, the Son, inseparably involved in all this, who embodies God for us. God, who is that perfect relationship, shows at Christmas and for all time, how much that relationship is offered to all people. God with us. It is what God longs to do and to be. Otherwise, why would Jesus have happened?
We live in a world where loneliness and isolation is one of the major causes of death. We live in a world where fear of difference separates us off from each other. We live in a world where misunderstandings spiral into hatred and violence. We may be connected by social media and have, apparently, instant involvement, but we are not with each other in relationship.
Today, we are celebrating again how God has always understood and has offered God’s own self to be with us on our human journey. What is it we hope for, more than anything else as we journey on? We will probably be asking ourselves that question in 6 days’ time as 2016 comes to an end and we wonder what lies ahead in 2017. There won’t be many of us whose wish-list didn’t include peace and an end to the insidious power struggles that breed division and violence. We will probably all be wondering about the direction the United States may take, Russia, China; what will happen in the Middle East; what will be the fate of millions of displaced peoples; what will happen to our climate and our environment; what will happen in our own lives and that of the people we love?
All these things are about relationships. Today, God’s word made flesh speaks to us about that. It calls us to be with each other, not just for each other. Above all, it says “I am with you”. So, this Christmas story doesn’t end when the decorations are taken down, the nativity scenes put away, the trees packed up and the lights switched off. The story of God with us continues from the cradle to the cross, with all the involvement in human life that lies in between. And then, it doesn’t die. The Word keeps on calling, whispering, sometimes shouting to be heard over the noise and distraction. Today, we celebrate because we are being called back to be with God who comes to be with us, so we can be with each other, whoever we are.
May this be a day of blessing for you and for our world. May it be a day when we incline our ears to hear the Word that tells us that we can do surprising things when we do them in relationship with God and with each other. God is with us. Thanks be to God!