As the Christmas season has rolled into view, I’ve had the great joy and privilege of leading and preaching at a variety of services and events. For the Emmanuel Carol Service and the Northamptonshire County Council Staff Carol Service I used variations on this talk. As quite a few people have said that they found it (variously) helpful, challenging and encouraging, I thought I’d reproduce it here.
Talk Text: Carol Services 2016: John 1:1-14
Talk Text: Carol Services 2016: John 1:1-14
If Jesus hadn’t been born, would we still celebrate Christmas? This is the key question I was asked by a child in year one of a local school last week. What do you say when you’re asked a question like that? Of course, it’s an easy one to answer, without the birth of Jesus, Christmas wouldn’t happen, the Mass, the remembering of his birth, it wouldn’t be happening. We wouldn’t have all these carols (beautifully led this evening by the musicians, thank you guys). We wouldn’t have the Bible readings to listen to, glorious, well-known words to many of us that tell the story of the birth of a Saviour which was more fraught with uncertainty than it sounds when you’ve heard it for most of the Christmasses you can remember. We wouldn’t have turkey or the veggie equivalent, we wouldn’t have presents, a special reason to spend time with people at this time of year.
Nor would we have the hope that now, today, God has made a way for the world to be more fair, more just, more honouring to him and his ways of doing things. .
However, before we get too despondent, good news: Jesus was born. The word of God was not just spoken into the world, it came alive and is still alive today. Jesus is that word, as we’ll hear in our final reading shortly. He’d been there at the beginning of all time, everything was created through him, he had a hand in it all.
Later in his life, Jesus would continually frustrate those who he spoke to by emphasising God’s priority for those in the community who are poor. So did the early Church which followed in his wake, and so must we. God calls us, his people, to be the ones who live in a different way, acting justly, loving mercy and walking in humility with him. We do it not because doing good things makes sense (although it does). We do it because the Word of God came into the world full of grace and full of truth, and his word was that the world would never be the same again
When a word is spoken, written, signed or communicated in any kind of way, it demands a response. We don’t use words (most of us at least) for the sake of it, shouting into a void. We speak because we want people to hear us, to respond to us, to relate to us and what we’re saying. It’s the same with Jesus, the word of God to the world when he was born that first Christmas day, and the word of God to the world today. What is that word? It is life, hope, transformation, salvation, being given new eyes to see the part of the world that we live and love and serve in through the eyes of God and with the opportunity to make the priorities of his coming kingdom and way of life ours, too. Are we watching? Are we listening?
We live in a world which feels like it is waiting for something to happen. It’s a world which is searching for a better way, someone or something to change things. It feels like a time has come when the old order of things is passing away. In politics, the rise of the right is making things look very different. In our world of swiping from post to post on Facebook, of instant gratification of a like or a retweet, or of the need to respond immediately to everything that happens, it’s hard for us ever to be truly satisfied, trusting, at rest. Many of us see things that happen all over the world on our screens, or in our newspapers, all day every day. We can become anaesthetised to the enormity of it all. It’s hard to know what is truly important, crucial in the midst of the sheer quantity or volume of things that are offered to us for our response, our entertainment. Workloads seem heavier than ever, needing to be completed quicker than ever, and in the midst of it, it’s easier, it seems to be swamped in the dark and the chaos and let it all happen, than to pick out the light, the one true light, which came into the world to save sinners, all of us, and give us the opportunity of life, now and forever as children of God.
We’ll be hearing John 1:1-14 in just a few minutes. Again, we’ll be reminded that Jesus, the word of God, has spoken, transformed the world and wants us to hear, recognise and welcome him into our hearts this Christmas. Take the few moments of that reading to ask God to make his home in your heart again this Christmas time.
So, no, if Jesus hadn’t been born, we wouldn’t be celebrating Christmas this coming week, but, truly, thank God that he was. We have hope, for ourselves, for our Church, for the whole world. We have a story to tell, we have a story of grace, mercy and peace to be part of, to live out and share with the world, that everyone we meet might see the true light of the world shining out from us. The light shines, let’s show it to as many people as we can. Let’s be hearers, doers and speakers of the word of God this Christmas.