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The First Sunday after Christmas, Year B

On the Seventh Day of Christmas

Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1.1-12
John 1:1-14

Our family has a tendency to stubbornness. Our prime example was Great Uncle George. I remember one day as a child of perhaps ten, going with him to the Old Mill Restaurant. We parked, and since I knew the way, I began to lead my Aunt and Uncle towards the front entrance. Uncle George stopped us. "This way is shorter," he declared, indicating that we should walk around the building. I pointed out the front entrance, only a few steps away, but nothing would deter him from his chosen path. Aunt Alice and I walked up to the entrance and stood waiting at the steps for him. Finally, huffing and puffing, he met us and declared, "I told you my way was shorter!" We could have argued. We both knew that he was wrong. But it wouldn't have done any good. He would never have changed his mind. People are not often changed by arguments. They have to see for themselves. They have to experience. And above all, they have to accept.

It is the same on our faith journey. Theologians present arguments. Books of theology have been written arguing every aspect of the Christian faith. You can read countless volumes arguing the existence of God. The great theological debate of the Middle Ages was about how many angels you could fit on the point of a pin. There have been great debates on the Virgin birth. Nothing can have been argued more than the concept of the Incarnation. When did Christ become human? Is it right to depict Jesus? The list goes on and on.

But God did not give us a debate about the Incarnation. God did not argue with us. God gave us not an argument, but a Saviour. The Word became flesh and lived and died among us. God is made flesh. Christ is born. The Holy Spirit penetrates the darkness of our world.

That is the essence of what I read in the first chapter of John’s gospel. Some of you may remember as I do that each Eucharist ended with the reading from John’s Gospel. Now we hear it only occasionally. It is not even heard every Christmas because we would rather hear about shepherds and sheep, angels and stars, gifts and magi. Without the truth at the heart of the Gospel the lights, the trees, the carols, the gift giving all become something else. Something very fine, well-intentioned, desirable, but yet empty somehow. It becomes the “Happy Holiday” the world celebrates. But once we get beyond the abstract thought of the Word made flesh, we get to the real truth of the Christian faith that lies at the heart of Christmas. It is through living with us, as one of us, that Word becomes deed. We can talk about solidarity with the poor, but only when we share our lives with them are they be able to say, “You are one of us!”

So it is with Emmanuel, God-with-us. The promise has been fulfilled. God is in solidarity with humankind. That kind of solidarity is encouraging news. It is like the moment when a friend comes to see us when we are sick or discouraged. It is like the time when someone truly shares their life with us. It becomes more than words; it becomes a fact. Jesus can speak from his own human experience. He is one of us, through our joys, trials, struggles, discouragement, hopes and dreams. God is with us. God is with me. God is with you.

Consider for a moment your own faith journey. How did you come to faith? And by that I mean, not the faith of a child, but a mature adult faith. It is a rare person who comes to faith through some intellectual pursuit. We see God's glory, not in arguments, but in unselfish lives. We find God, not through ecstatic experiences, but through the ordinary events of our lives. We are convinced about the love of God by experiencing it at work in our own lives. And then we pass it on to others as we might pass the light of a candle one to another.

In a Bible Study a number of years ago, I asked people to reflect on where they had met God in the past week. They came up with an amazing list. A conversation at the breakfast table … seeing a friend’s newborn baby … a walk in the park … letters out of the blue … a flower … an apology … a phone call … a smile from a stranger. Not one of them said anything about church. Not one of them spoke about reading a book or hearing a sermon. It led me to reflect that fortunately God speaks to us more outside of our churches than inside. That makes perfect sense, because God is speaking to all of creation all the time. God spoke once, and life happened, and that Word keeps ringing in human ears through all of time.

The whole of the Gospel shows us what grace looks like, tastes like, smells like, sounds like, feels like. God in becoming flesh has committed God’s self not only to revealing what God’s grace looks like, but that God wants to know it and feel it as well. This beginning of John’s Gospel reminds us above all that Christmas is not just a season; it is a way of life. We are an Incarnational people. Christ is born in us. For those celebrating the Holiday Season, Christmas is over once the wrappings have been disposed of, and the feasting done. For us it is just beginning. Not just the twelve days until Epiphany, but the hope and life that Christmas promises.

Howard Thurman, an African-American writer, philosopher, theologian, activist, writes the following:
“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people, to make music in the heart.”

The Word has become flesh. Christ lived and died as we do. He assured us of life for evermore. Thanks be to God.

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