Sermon at the 11.30 Eucharist on the Second Sunday of Christmas (3 January 2016) by the Revd Canon Philippa Boardman, Treasurer
A powerful message from Canon Philippa - everyone has a part to play in seeing Christ in other people
How was your Christmas? It's a question I've been asked and indeed it's a question I've been asking of others over the past week.
It's a question that implies that Christmas is over and indeed shops have already been taking Christmas decorations down and perhaps some of us have taken down the decorations in our own homes too?
In the Church calendar as well as our national life, Christmas seems to get short shrift.
In our Church calendar
- Easter gets seven weeks
- Pentecost over twenty weeks
- Lent and Advent five and four Sundays apiece.
- Christmas has only two - and New Year's Eve comes right in the middle to distract attention.
But our reading from St John's Gospel reminds us that Christmas isn't just a season, it's a way of life.While the season may pass, the hope and life it promises are just beginning.
Our lives matter to God.
Our world matters to God.
So much so that God has come into the world and into our lives in Jesus Christ.
Many of us will have heard these words from John's Gospel at Carol services in the past few weeks...
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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being...... What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
St Matthew and St Luke, begin their Gospels by telling the story of Mary and Joseph, of angelic visitations and Bethlehem birth.
But for St. John, this is his Christmas story and it is set in the context of creation, “In the beginning.” Creation is not an event of the past but the ongoing life of God with his people.
When we hear these words of St John's Gospel chapter one, there are distinct echoes of the story of creation in the Old Testament book of Genesis,
“In the beginning God said, ‘Let there be…’ and there was….” Land, sky, vegetation, living creatures from the water, birds of the air, living creatures from the earth, and humankind made in the image and likeness of God.
Christmas is God continuing to give life to his people. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us... The true light that enlightens everyone, was in the world..”
Christmas, says St. Gregory of Nyssa, is the “festival of re-creation.”
This festival of re-creation is God’s celebration of humanity.
Jesus Christ, 'God with us' 'Immanuel' – bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.
It is God’s reaffirmation of humanity’s goodness.
It is God in Christ giving dignity to each human life.
This is the ongoing gift of Christmas.
This is the gift of God in Jesus Christ – not our achievement or something inherited by being born in a particular family or nation.
As our Gospel reading reminds us 'We have been given the power to become children of God. This happens not by blood, or the will of the flesh, or the will of people, but by God.'
This idea of God in us is quite a challenge to embrace.
For many of us, we are all too aware of our failings. “I’m only human,” we declare.
But God in Christ has chosen to live in us.
One writer has described it like this:
Human beings ' he says 'are God's first sacrament'
Human beings are the outward, and visible signs and carriers of God’s inward and spiritual presence. I wonder if you have ever thought of yourself as a sacrament? I wonder whether you have ever looked at someone across the street and said, “Look! There is the sacramental image of God?”
In the Jewish tradition the rabbis tell a wonderful story. Each person, they say, has a procession of angels going before them and crying out,
“Make way for the image of God.”
How different our lives (and world) could be if we began to live this out? Everywhere we go the angels going with us - announcing the coming of the image of God and reminding us of who we are.
Reminding us of God's image in others
- the person living next door, the people we work with,
- in those we love, in those we fear,
- in those who are like us and those who are different, in the stranger, and in our enemies.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, the American Lutheran pastor, tells a powerful story of the challenge of seeing Christ in all people.
Just two weeks after twenty children and six of their teachers had been killed at their elementary school in Sandy Hook by a young man Adam Lanza who then turned his gun on himself, in December 2012, she was planning a Christmas service..
'During the prayers of the people' she said to a young intern Alex, 'lets read the names of the twenty-six children and teachers who died. We'll ring a bell after each.'
'You mean twenty seven' he replied. 'Adam Lanza died too'
''No way' was Nadia's gut reaction.
But she writes 'Alex didn't need to say anything else. I knew he was right'.
Later in the service, she began to read the names:
Charlotte Bacon 6. the bell rang.
Daniel Barden – 7, another bell.
Olivia Engel -6.
Nadia writes: 'I couldn't read the final name right away … but if I couldn't speak the truth that God came to save us, all of us, that God created us in God's image and that the lives we'd rather extinguish are still precious to their maker... then I really had no business in being a preacher. So with my voice cracking, I said 'and in obedience to your command to love the enemy and pray for those who persecute us: Adam Lanza 20.
The final bell rang.
This is Christmas ongoing
“And the Word became flesh & lived among us”
The Word became flesh and has never ceased living among us.
The Word became flesh and will never cease living among us.
How was your Christmas?
If we take these words from St John's Gospel seriously, we might just want to re-phrase that from:
How was your Christmas to
How are you Christmass- ing?'
How is this 'festival of re-creation', helping us to open our lives afresh to the presence of God in us?
That amazingly, by God's grace, his 'grace upon grace' as John puts it, we are his first sacrament, an outward, visible sign of God's presence in the world?
How is this 'festival of re-creation' helping us to open our hearts to God's presence in others?
helping us to see the procession of angels going before our family members, work colleagues, the stranger, the refugee – especially those we find it hardest to relate to?
- and to hear angelic voices saying 'make way for the image of God?
And finally how is this ongoing 'festival of re-creation' stirring us to play our unique part in bringing change in our wider world?
Howard Thurman, the American theologian and civil rights activist expresses this in his reflection 'The work of Christmas'
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
All of us however young or old has a part to play in this 'work of Christmas'.
Earlier this week, the Queen's New Years Honours List was published and we are delighted that one of our Lay Canons here Pim Baxter was awarded the OBE for her service to the Arts.
Among others honoured was a thirteen year old boy, JonJo Heuerman, who has raised over £250,000 for cancer research after his grandmother died from bowel cancer when he was just 9 years old. Since then, Jonjo has walked and cycled thousands of miles to raise money and awareness. A great football fan he says that his greatest challenge so far was a 700 mile cycle ride visiting all of the Premier League football clubs in England.
Healthcare professionals have also been honoured including the doctors and nurses who went overseas as part of the fight against Ebola. And the eldest recipient? Dorothy Start aged 99 from Hertfordshire, in recognition of a lifetime of community work.
Today may we be renewed in God's vision of Christ in us and in all humanity as we receive bread and wine – Christ's body and blood given for us on the cross.
And may we go out from this place to the many communities and nations worldwide from which we come - led by that angelic procession - to do the work of Christmas in the unique way God has called us to do.
And may I wish you, not only a blessed New Year but - 'Happy Christ-massing' . Amen