The Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Isaiah 52: 7 – 10
7 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.’
8 Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
9 Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.
Hebrews 1: 1 – 4
God Has Spoken by His Son
1Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
John 1: 1 – 14
The Word Became Flesh
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became 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.
The Gospel reading this bright and cheery morning ends with the words, 14 And the Word became 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.
So Jesus, whose birth we celebrate today, is full of grace and truth.
Both those words, grace and truth, can ring alarm bells.
Truth, because it is such an abused word. Rather than being associated with beauty (Scripture speaks of the beauty of holiness –1 Chronicles 16: 29, Psalm 29: 2, 96: 9, 110: 3) we are more likely to feel guilt when we hear the word. “Are you sure you’re telling the truth?” is a question not associated with pleasant feelings.
And grace because we intrinsically feel unworthy of being given anything.
In each case we feel objectified:
- Someone over there is challenging me over here as to whether truthfulness is part of me or not.
- Someone over there is trying to give me, over here, something I have not earned or deserved.
Both these responses are our natural responses to God when we perceive God to be strange to us. The first is associated with guilt and the second with unworthiness based upon that guilt.
The irony of course is that these are exactly the things Jesus came to remove from our lives. The gift of Jesus is the gift of a loving God who sent him to sort out our sin problem, and not sin in the sense of the things we have done wrong, but sin in the sense of our alienation from God.
This is exactly why God took on human form, joined our society and brought an end to sin and ultimately to its logical consequence, death. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, (no longer that sense of me here in opposition to myself, others and God over there) 14 And the Word became 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.
The disturbing Christmas gift is the unexpected one, especially if we’ve not bought the giver a gift ourselves, and worse still if it’s an expensive gift. Lurking in the background is always the sense that we should have earned it.
We cannot earn God’s forgiveness! It can only come as a gift. Therefore salvation is by grace – God’s free gift.
What’s more salvation is personal. It comes in the form of a person – Jesus – who began his earthly life in the Christmas story. Jesus personified grace and truth. He embodies them. He is them.
Who can forget that incredible irony when Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, has Jesus in chains in front of him and asks, What is truth? (John 18: 38)
Paul, in his letter to Titus, says For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. (Titus 2: 11)
It is in engaging with Jesus that the truth reveals to us what we are, and grace changes us into what God wants us to be – the people he intended us to be. We don’t simply undergo a profound change for the better. The image of God that lies deep within us all in brought to the surface. The beauty of truth is made plain because we become carriers of God’s grace.
Of course there are barriers to our experiencing the salvation that is in Jesus. The major barrier is not so much that we find it difficult to believe in God. That’s a red herring. The real barrier is in the fear of giving up our independence. We will kick and scream before giving in to God.
If you’re not a regular church-goer your excuses might be based around wafer-thin claims about an imaginary friend in the sky. Nobody is fooled by that smokescreen. Least of all God. …. His love in Jesus still reaches out to you.
If you’re a regular church-goer your excuses might be a little more convoluted. They may be based around wanting to change the terms of worship or worse still, see other people change their behaviour before you will let go and let God. …. His love in Jesus still reaches out to you.
The beauty of truth comes to us all in the love that is intrinsic to grace – a free gift from God. Unvarnished, because it is simple and personal because it comes to us in Jesus. This is the Good News.
So each of us stands before a crib this morning. It contains a lovely baby. That baby will begin growing into an untamed man with piercing eyes. They are the eyes of love than we can never deserve.
Which means we are faced with a choice: either
- draw nearer to this crib that in time will turn into a cross or,
- look at it, hang on to our independence and think, “How cute. How appropriate,” and go on our impoverished way.
I trust that, for 2017, we will make the right choice.
God bless you and a very merry Christmas to you!