Christmas Eve 2019
John 1: 1-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life,[a] and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.[b]
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who 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,[d] full of grace and truth.
These first verses of John’s gospel are some of the most beautiful and profound of the Bible.
God’s word, breathed into the world he creates, spoken out in human form, a lived connection, with us.
Martin Buber said that all living is meeting, and we might add that from this meeting, in the coming of Christ, all meeting is God-breathed, which is to say love-breathed.
This evening I am not going to try any longer to describe or add to John’s poetry about the incarnation. Instead I want to highlight for you a detail, in verse 13.
He who comes among us gives power to become children of God, born - and I paraphrase: “Not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but born of God.”
The writer of John, probably living in Ephesus in Southern Turkey some 60 years after the death of Jesus, underlines with this triple negative a crucial aspect of the expanding Christian community’s understanding of itself.
This community is not defined by blood. Jesus and all of his disciples belonged to one racial group, and at the time of writing that race still made up a large part of the movement. And yet, as they worked through the meaning and significance of their new way of life, they transcended race as forming any part of Christian identity.
That this transcendence of the racial in-group was later interpreted by the church to condemn Jews is a shame that all of us as Christians still carry.
But race is only the first of John’s three negatives. He goes on to say that we are also not born of the will of the flesh and not of the will of man. How are we to understand these? It seems that the writer is reaching for a more complete rejection of all human attempts to restrict membership of the group.
I don’t know what particular instincts in his time he is warning against. Speaking to our own age, we might point to attempts to define or control who is a true child of God based either on human taste, or aesthetic, or orientation, or on thought, or dogma, or orthodoxy.
But here in the opening of John’s gospel is radical inclusivity, a turning inside out of that ancient religious instinct to draw a circle, with “us” inside and “them” outside. Saint Bonaventure, the Franciscan, says that Christ is “the one whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”
With this idea in your mind, you start to notice radical inclusivity all over the New Testament. Not least in the Nativity. For example, the shepherds, and the wise men. In my more irreverent moments, I wonder, who dreamed up the bizarre idea of bringing three Persian sages into the story – and what were they smoking? And I love the fact that, when they see the Christ child, and bow down and worship him, they do not then stay and become followers, they go home, and I assume continue as good Zoroastrians.
And Christmas in its modern form is the most inclusive of festivals, celebrated by people of all faiths and none. And from this perspective, it is wonderfully, chaotically embracing of all of humanity and all its foibles. So next year, when we hear the first piped version of Jingle Bell Rock in October, or when a young relative parades their seven chocolate-producing Advent Calendars – let us celebrate! Christ is in all and everywhere. All are born of God, as children of God, loved by him wholly and unconditionally.
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Richard Young (Rector)