The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
25 December 2016
Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, being regenerate and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
For weeks we have been talking about expectations and promises. We have heard the prophets assuring an uncertain world that God will act as God as always acted, that God will come among us to bring a fundamental shift towards love.
We have been told that this inbreaking will bring a time when “and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” We have heard that the one who comes “shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.” We have been told of a time of inversion, when our expectations of how the world goes will be up-ended: “For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.” Peace and justice are God’s ways, and when God comes peace and justice will be the direction towards which creation will begin to move. All these promises are summed up in the prophesy that in a time of need, when we fear and feel the absence of God, the absence of love, that “the Lord ... will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” God will come among personally and show us the way.
Last night we gathered in this place to experience this personal coming of our God into time and space, into that moment in history in that unexpected corner of a world empire. We gathered and saw that the one who came was one not with power that the world recognises, not with strength and riches, but a child who’s strengths are vulnerability and love. We gathered and saw that God fulfills this promise in a way that turned human expectations of power on its head, we saw that our king is the infant in the manger.
This morning we are able to proclaim with Isaiah, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good tidings, who publishes peace, who brings good tidings of good, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” We see that the one who comes reflects the consistency of God, that this child, our king who does not look kingly, “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of [God’s] nature, upholding the universe by his word of power.” This child king, who would grow into a man who preached and taught and healed and who gave up his power in order for the real power of God to overturn death. This child king is the one whose “throne ... is for ever and ever, [whose] the righteous sceptre is the sceptre of thy kingdom; [who] hast loved righteousness and hated lawlessness.”
This morning we recognise that God has come, that we have experienced and know Emmanuel, that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” This is the good news, but there is still work ahead for us and for our God. John reminds us in no uncertain terms this morning that
The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Even with this decisive intervention of God, of Love, into the world that not everyone will see what has happened, not everyone will be willing to set aside narrow self interest and the collection of personal wealth and power. That particular moment of the incarnation of Emmanuel into the world did not automatically fix everything. God did not simply sweep everything aside and fix the world for us. This is not how God acts.
God is not the literal deus ex machina who comes and solves all our problems for us. God has given us agency, God has given us the ability to love and to bear divine love into the world and for that to be real we have to make the choice to do this work. We can not be forced to love, for there is no love in coercion. Not everyone could see Jesus for who he was, and that was to be expected. But there were people who did. They spread the good news of Emmanuel throughout the nations and did change the world, fundamentally altered the structures of society and while we have not always gotten it right, have worked to centre God’s priorities. We are called to the challenging work of cooperating with Emmanuel every day even though we will meet resistance. This is what the prophets did. This is the work the apostles undertook. This is the work of the church. We are called to bear Emmanuel with us in each moment in large and small ways. We are called to personal acts of love and to work on a larger scale for peace and justice, calling those with secular power to account.
This is what God has wanted for us from the beginning and this is the most profound meaning of those well known opening words from the Gospel of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Today truly “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” and as we move into a new year let us be strengthened by the shining light emanating from the manger and let it fill us with the power of love.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
Christmas Eve, 24 December 2016
© 2016 Andrew Charles Blume