“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, …full of grace and truth”
When I was at theological college, the beautiful gospel reading we have just heard came up a lot in our studies. The first encounter, was in my tutors’ brave attempts to get us to learn some biblical Greek and to be able to read some of the New Testament in the language in which it was written. The poetic repetition of the passage makes it a helpful place to begin as, with only a few words you’ve covered much of the passage. Unfortunately, all I remember now is that “en archay” (and I’m probably not saying that correctly) means in the beginning, and that “Ho Logos” means The Word.
The other reason it came up in our studies is that in this passage from John many of the key Christian ideas about Jesus are held together. Here we are reminded that this babe in the manger is none other than the logos, the Word, of God by which the universe came into being. In Genesis, we are told that God spoke and things were. Here we are told that the person of Jesus and the word by which God spoke things into being, are one and the same.
The new born infant lying in a manger in Palestine at the beginning of what we now call the first century, not only was with God in the beginning, but was and is God. The creator of all things, has taken on human form, as a helpless, fragile, precious baby, born into poverty and noise and mess, and is lying in a feeding trough.
The sweet poetry of our Victorian carols doesn’t do it justice. Never mind “no crying he makes”, I’m quite sure that when that first gasp of cold, smelly stable air hit his lungs he wailed like babies do. He sought comfort at Mary’s breast, and he needed warmth and protection from her and Joseph. The creator of all things became as vulnerable as can be.
Now that juxtaposition demands a response. Its either a nonsense idea, and we’d all be better off at home watching the telly and having a mince pie, or we are here because we have an idea that there might just be some truth in it. It might be a vague glimmer, or it might be a confident hope, but the story, the text, invites us further in.
The word Gospel is not Greek, it’s Old English, and it means simply good news. The Gospel of Christ is simply the Good news of Christ, told here by John.
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger… who brings good news” says our reading from Isaiah. We all like good news, and we don’t get much of it in the press and on the screens of our smart phones. Here is the ultimate good news, God become human.
But what’s good about that and to who is it good news?
God made flesh is good news to us all, it tells us that God has honoured and hallowed humanity, that God wishes to be intimate with God’s creation. It tells me and you that not only are we not floating around on this rock by accident, but that we matter, we have worth, we have dignity.
And the fact that God chose the muck and the mess of a stable in which to demonstrate that, reminds us that it applies to each one of us.
No fancy palaces needed for the King of Kings, No riches and etiquette, and finally tuned accents, here in the outhouse of an inn, Godself is made present to show that the values of the world matter not one jot, when God is measuring our worth.
All of us are welcome, all of us are invited, to all who believe in his name, he gives power to become children of God.
It’s good news to you and it’s good news to me, but it’s not always the good news we want it to be.
For it means that in God’s sight you or I are no better than one another, no better than anyone else.
We paint a picture of nice people like us, and John reminds us, “He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him”.
God comes to us still, in his word, the scriptures, in bread and wine as he makes himself present on the altar, but also in the poor and the lowly, the needy and the outcast.
Do we recognise him, this cute little baby, in those for whom the world has no room, do we accept him in those whose lives are as messy as the stable; the dirty, the smelly, the the odd, the weird and the annoying, the person about whom we love to grumble, the one that never fails to make us cross?
Tomorrow we will gather round with our friends and loved ones, and possibly some we have to tolerate because they’re related to us. But Christmas is not just about making sure there’s good news for those we like.
We’re invited to find the good news for the pregnant teenager alone and worried, the young trans man rejected by his parents, the refugee cut off from their family and feeling unwelcome in a country where immigrants are now regularly told to go home.
We are called to take the good news of their worth and dignity to them and not just by our words, but by putting some flesh on those words, so that they create action.
It’s no accident that the church sees in Christmas Day with a Eucharist, here we are nourished by God’s word in scripture and reminded of the roots and the subversive nature of our faith. Here we are fed at the altar as the Babe of Bethlehem once more becomes present to us in the substance of the communion elements. Here we are called in, invited to draw near, all together; those we like and those we struggle to tolerate, but then, at the end of our service, we are sent out into the world, to the highways and byways, to the bruised and rejected, the lonely and the anxious, with the Good News of God’s love.
So come, draw near, receive the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he gave for you, feed on him in your heart, be nourished, be strengthened, know yourself invited to become children of God.
But then we must leave this place, and take the Good News of God’s love to a world that cries out for Good News, We’re called to accept the unhesitating embrace of the Christ-child. But it comes with consequences. For those who are loved unreservedly, are called to love unreservedly.
Those invited to become Children of God, are invited to love like their heavenly parent loves.
This Christmastide, will we come and accept the gift that is given, along with its call to go and give of ourselves to those most in need? Know ourselves loved and valued, then go and show others the good news of their value and worth?
“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger… who brings good news”