Christmas Eve 2020
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.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.
John’s gospel begins before the birth of Jesus, before even the creation of the world, at the very beginning, when nothing has yet come into being.
The word is with God, suggesting that the word is as yet as unspoken, the wonders of creation exist only in latent potential, containing all that will come, but not yet breathed into life in God’s creative word of love.
It’s as if the gospel writer has imagined the metaphor of the big bang, nearly two thousand years early.
So this evening I start with this notion that somehow, life, truth, beauty, have their earliest beginnings with God in a word not yet spoken, a love about to be born.
At the centre of our faith, then is a sense of movement, from unspoken to spoken, the reaching out, which brings something new into being: God’s risky, creative self-offering.
It is this sense of movement towards in creation, first from God to us and us then to God and to others in our turn, which we describe in the language of love, daring to say that God is love.
In this metaphor of the unspoken word of God, we also recognise that in its origin the word is truly universal, not yet embedded in any one language or culture or bodily form, or single creed or religious text.
John goes on to describe this word once spoken as, “the life which is the light of all people, the true light, which enlightens everyone”. And all who receive this life are children of God, by reason not of tribe or the will of man, but by God’s sole, all-encompassing desire.
So the Word once expressed is to be found in every human culture and language. We are called, with open hearts and expectant minds to see in surprising places, the life which God gives to all of creation.
From the universal, then, to the particular, where tonight we remember God’s movement towards us in the birth of the child, Jesus.
This Christmas the miracle of birth is on my mind. For our eldest daughter, Alice, is 35 weeks pregnant and we are soon to become grandparents for the first time. I recall the day when she first told us the exciting news, and explained that, at 3 months, the embryo was the size of a poppy seed. It grew to being a grape, a strawberry, an aubergine, and last week a melon – although mercifully more squidgy!
But I also recall the day when Alice herself was born: 30 years, one month and 20 days ago, at 10:25 in the morning, and how I held her in my arms, and she looked up at me, and the complete surprise and wonder I felt, as if no one had told me for the last nine months about her approaching arrival. And suddenly she was utterly dependent on us and we would give anything, do anything, to keep her safe.
Do we dare to imagine that God reaches out to us with even greater tenderness, an intensity of both need and hope, vulnerability and excitement?
Recently a group of us have been reflecting on Christina Rossetti’s beautiful carol, In a Bleak Midwinter. At its heart Rossetti expresses her wonder at the coming of Christ into our bodily reality, with the tender image of the baby on her mother’s warm breast and the touch of Mary’s devoted kiss.
But surrounding the stable there is bitter wind and snow on the cold ground, hard as iron.
The carol shows us a picture of God’s presence appearing in a bleak, hard world, the love amidst the world’s cold indifference. And for us this year has had more than its share of bleakness.
But for Rossetti this is also an internal landscape, where at times her faith in God’s warm embrace flickered in the face of anxiety, depression and doubt.
So tonight we celebrate the birth of Christ among us and God’s coming into the world, in body and in spirit.
We also come together in our need of warmth, our search for God’s life-giving touch, through prayer, the bread and wine, and friendship, asking that through the difficult months ahead, God will sustain us all in faith, in hope, in love.
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Richard Young (Rector)