Avril at Romsey

… and Lancefield and Riddells Creek and Mount Macedon

Reflection for Christmas Day 2011

Isaiah 52:7-10
John 1:1-14

God has rolled up God’s sleeves and got down to it. ‘The Lord has bared his holy arm’ and is participating in the everyday life of the world. This is what God has always done, from the beginning of creation, but today we celebrate the strange, new way God did it in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. In the birth of a baby the pre-existing Word took on flesh and became a human being like us. He came to bring us the good news of peace and salvation, and to show us in his life what that good news looks like.

It’s a strange story that John gives us today. John does not begin his telling of the gospel with a birth, as Matthew or Luke do, nor with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, as Mark does. He takes us back to the VERY beginning, to the dawn of creation and talks not of a baby, nor of a peripatetic preacher, but of the very Word of God. That Word brings life, the life that is the light of all people, the light that shines in the darkness. At Christmas John reminds us to look beyond the Nativity and to recognise that the story we hear today began eons before the child Jesus was born to Mary. The story we celebrate today started in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.

John reminds us not just to look back from Jesus’ birth, but also forwards. Christmas may be the culmination of Advent, the end of the time of waiting and preparation, the moment towards which we’ve been working, God’s overwhelming intervention into the life of the world – but it’s a semi-colon, not a full stop; a rest on the journey, not the destination. John writes: ‘He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.’ Today’s story did not begin with a birth, and it does not end there. It continues, through Jesus’ baptism, ministry, passion, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.

It’s sad but true that Christmas can look just like any other day. The story of the Christmas Day Truce during World War One, when men in the trenches on both sides sang and played football together, is amazing and beautiful – and profoundly unusual. Wars don’t usually stop for Christmas. Death and hunger and sorrow and pain do not suddenly disappear because we are celebrating the birth of Christ. Natural disasters don’t care about the liturgical calendar.

But – in today’s celebration we are reminded that the world is not just made up of war and famine, death and destruction. We recognize beauty and hope. We speak and hear of joy and peace. We experience the love that is at the core of creation. We see the light shine in the darkness, and know that the dark cannot overcome it. John prompts us to look backward to creation and forward to the culmination of all things, but we also need to pause right where we are, here and now, and celebrate the light.

In some ways we’re doing what the people to whom Isaiah prophesied were doing. For Isaiah’s people it must have been hard to see peace and salvation when Jerusalem was still in ruins and they were still in exile. Yet Isaiah told them that so certain was God’s comfort that they could rejoice now as the messenger told them about it; in fact, the sentinels on the city’s walls could sing as the messenger approached, even before they knew the content of his message. They were to sing in praise of good news that the messenger hadn’t even delivered. This news is so good, Isaiah told them, that it can be celebrated even before it’s achieved. God reigns; the Lord has comforted his people; all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

We see this salvation, this reign of God, in the birth of Jesus, in the Word made flesh. We see it even more clearly at Easter, in the resurrection that follows the crucifixion. We will see it most completely at the eschaton, the parousia, the end time: when people shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; when the wolf shall live with the lamb and the leopard lie down with the kid; when the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. We haven’t reached this point yet, but we’ve seen the foretaste of the new world’s coming in the light that shone in the darkness, and this news is so good that we can celebrate it now. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ Thanks be to God. Amen.

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January 2, 2012 - Posted by | Ministry | , , , ,

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