Isaiah 52.7-10; Hebrews 1.1-4 [5-12]; John 1.1-14
Almighty God, you have given us your only-begotten Son to
take our nature upon him and as at this time to be born of a pure
virgin: grant that we, who have been born again and made your
children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy
Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
UNLIKE Matthew's and Luke's versions, John's Gospel does not
begin with narrative stories of Nazareth and Bethlehem told from
human perspectives, but sets a theological context - what we might
say is God's-eye view.
We hear John's words this Christmas alongside Isaiah's
affirmation to the exiled people that God reigns, that God is a God
of salvation and comfort; and alongside the bold assertion in the
epistle that God has spoken to us through his Son, through whom he
created the world.
Hebrews opens, like John's Gospel, with its gaze firmly on
heavenly things. So it emphasises the divinity of the Son; that he
sits at the right hand of the majesty on high; that he is God
enthroned for ever and ever. Taken on its own, this reading
suggests little need for this heavenly way of life to engage with
the world. In one sense, it appears self-sufficient.
Except, and this is the big exception: "In these last days God
has spoken to us through a Son." That changes everything. That is
why we celebrate Christmas. There is an impulse in the Godhead to
embrace the world in love, despite human rejection of God's
previous reaching out through the prophets.
A Hasidic tale explores this theme:
The grandson of Rabbi Baruch,
Yechiel, was playing hide and seek with a friend. He hid and waited
for his friend to search for him. After some time, during which
nothing happened, he came out of his hiding place, and could not
find his friend. It dawned on him that his friend had not bothered
to look for him. Distraught, he ran to his grandfather, sobbing
about his heartless friend. Rabbi Baruch wept, too, as he said: "O,
Yechiel. That's exactly what the Almighty Himself says: 'I hide
myself, but nobody wants to look for me.'"
The whole point of hide and seek is that we are found. Christmas
is the moment when we celebrate the mutual joy, with God, that God
has looked for us; and we are found through the incarnation of the
Jaroslav Vajda, one of the great hymn-writers of recent years,
wrote a lovely, imaginative hymn ("Before the marvel of this
night") which explores, poetically, God's motivation in sharing the
bliss of heaven with the sleeping world of earth.
Vajda imagines God's giving the angels their marching (flying?)
orders to go to the shepherds, telling them to "tear the sky apart
with light", and, evocatively, to
Give earth a glimpse of heavenly bliss,
A teasing taste of what they miss:
Sing bliss, sing endless bliss.
Vajda ends his hymn by putting these words on to God's lips:
The love that we have always
Our constant joy and endless light,
Now to the loveless world be shown,
Now break upon its deathly night.
Into one song compress the love
That rules our universe above.
Sing love . . . sing God is love.
"Into one song compress the love that rules our universe above."
Christmas is divine love compressed into a song that humans can
hear - a story that humans can tell and retell, as we do Christmas
Each year, we hear that "teasing taste of what we miss", when we
hear that the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen
his glory; that to all who received him he gave power to become
children of God.
Another hymn-writer, Samuel Crossman, sang of "love to the
loveless shown that they might lovely be". Love - strong and
passionate and tender love - is what God speaks to us through his
Son, Jesus Christ.
There is no reason for the joy and hope of Christmas to be a
one-night wonder. Christmas is the love of God compressed into one
song, and, with that love, comes an invitation to sing it for the
rest of our lives, in a tragically loveless world, that it might
The Word dwells among us. In the post-communion prayer, we pray:
"may the light of faith illumine our hearts and shine in our words
and deeds". Only then will people in the Philippines and other
places of tragedy in 2013 know that the Word of God dwells with