Sermon preached by Fr John Pritchard
on Wednesday 25th December (Christmas Day)
Isaiah 52.7–10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1.1–4; John 1.1–14
For so many religious people, and for those also on the periphery of organised religion, ‘God with us’ (which is the strapline of the season) might mask a truer feeling that many have of God not with us anymore; his presence replaced by statues which bask in a candlelight glow in the shadowy corners of our churches or cathedrals. For many, the closest we think we come to God is by coming into church, or indeed by lighting that candle before the statue of the Virgin Mary putting our hopes and fears of all the years before her, that we might capture God’s attention just for a moment, and be heard.
In our cinema and Netflix film culture we see little statues of gods in the homes of Roman citizens. We read and see representations of the Greek gods of Mount Olympus (if they have not destroyed each other in their fury and jealousy) living it big on mountaintops or in the netherworld. We watch Marvel films about gods coming from other solar systems just to destroy humanity (you and me made in the image of God) only to become entangled in fights with Iron Man, Captain America and Dr Strange.
In my travels to Mexico City many years ago, I recall seeing the statue of the image of a Mexican poor man holding on a plate all of his gods like little toy figures – offering them to Christ who was being held in the arms of the Virgin Mary.
Gods with us, or indeed the images of gods with us are strong in our cultural, cinematic and religious history. But ‘The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…’ has an entirely different meaning. This isn’t about domination, or a power struggle with humanity, this child born in Bethlehem isn’t demanding that we sacrifice before him anything other than our selfish ambition and that we offer to him our hearts and intentions for his purpose.
As so many of you know, when a child is born into a family, the primary attention is to that child; mothers eat second and work to provide, fathers help to make ends meet, in order that the child is warm and safe. Carers and adopting parents step in to ensure where they can that a child has every potential to have someone care for them and in turn have the opportunities of every other child to flourish.
So it is with the Word of God made flesh. God spoke and Jesus existed, then he was born into the family of Mary and Joseph, content to be born into the messiness of human life, dependent on people no different to you and me.
Last week I attended a carol service in a church which had fresh hay amongst its nativity figures. The hay smelt disgusting – it wasn’t a sanitized experience. Amidst the putrid smell of damp and animal pee permeating the air, was the image of God born as one of us. Not god offered on a plate, or coming to destroy, but God coming to disrupt like any other child born in Bethlehem or Upper Norwood.
But will we be disrupted by the infant Jesus? Will we bear the responsibility of God with us and all that this might mean?
His coming is not a takeover, it is not a threat, neither is it a vanity project for God. His coming is not just to be idolised; but an invitation, God’s small initiative to put our hearts back into a right order and perspective. The child is born, and now we have the choice to respond to that birth by seeing him as a vulnerable thing, representing all that is vulnerable in the world and thereby inviting us all to care for the weakness of our world, as an everlasting image of the glory of God. God is not reduced to a pretty statue made in China, God is the invitation which can change our perspective and bring us satisfaction. Let us then care for the world he made, for humanity, for creation, for all things vulnerable and robust, and allow ourselves to be cheered by the knowledge that God makes the effort to be with us. All of us, in all times, and in all places – let us in 2019 and 2020 make the effort to respond to the world in love, disrupt our comfort and selfishness, that we might see all things and people flourish through Jesus Christ our Lord.