Got it done! Nothing new, but then what can one say that is new about Christmas?
The Word Made Flesh
I have a love of theology and philosophy. This might come as a surprise to many of you, as i do have this image as a generally genial person who likes a laugh and enjoys being with people! There is an image of philosophers as kind of miserable, slightly depressed, maybe a bit gaunt, and often fond of strange recreational substances, but i obviously buck the trend in this respect – gaunt and depressed aren’t really my way of doing things and the recreational substances I prefer have more sugar or caffeine in them than anything else...
But it’s true, i love philosophy and theology. And we’ve done, or will be doing., some of that tonight. The carols that we sing have some very deep, and quite difficult, bits of theology in them. Take this line ‘veiled in flesh the godhead see, hail the incarnate deity. Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel’... It’s from, as you can tell, ‘Hark the Herald Angels sing’. Or try this for size ‘God of God, light of light, lo he abhors not the virgins’ womb, very God, begotten not created’ from ‘O come all ye faithful’.
In those few sentences are some of the most complicated theological thoughts that Christianity has to offer. They are called ‘incarnational theology’ – because they talk of a God who made himself human, not just looked like a human being, but actually became one of us – with all the same difficulties, joys, problems, hopes, fears, happinesses and sadnesses that we have in our lives.
In our Gospel reading for this evening we have perhaps the most striking and difficult bit of incarnational theology in the whole of the Bible. The first chapter of the letter of St John, which was the third reading for this evening, is widely recognised by theologians and thinkers as one of the most complicated, most dense, and most profound pieces of Scripture with regards to who Jesus was and why he was so important to us. My first Vicar didn’t like including it in services at Christmas because, he told me, it is such a complicated passage that it is not terribly fair to force it on people in the middle of Christmas.
You might be wondering why I have included it!
We have to have this reading in one of our services over Christmas, it is the ultimate statement of who Jesus is. He was God, but he was also human. And the experience of the first Christians (who put this book together) was that he was such an incredible person he could only be described as God made human. And because it was such an incredible thing to say, their experience was that many people rejected Jesus. That is why we have the section that says:
10He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. 11He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
Many of the philosophers and religious types of Jesus’ day struggled with who he was and what he taught. They tried very hard to fit Jesus into certain categories – calling him a prophet, or a teacher, or a religious leader. But they struggled with the idea of him being God and man.
But though the message seems complicated, and despite my love of complicated theology and philosophy, the message of this Gospel, and indeed the message of Isaiah (our first reading) and the Letter to the Hebrews (our second reading) is actually quite simple. It might not be an easy idea to understand, but the idea is simple.
God loves us so much that he became one of us.
Not only that, but he didn’t stay a baby, but grew up to teach us how we should live and how we should love God, love our neighbours and love ourselves.
And then he went on to die for us on the cross that first easter, taking away the sin and the darkness which weighs down our world. He was then brought to life again and showed us that God’s love is even stronger than death.
But it all comes down to this one thing. This one wonderful, mystical, overwhelming thing.
God loves us.
God became one of us and understands us, and knows what it is like to be us. That is how much he loves us. That is why we sing these carols year after year and that is why Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus two thousand (or more) years later.
God loves us.
We don’t actually need to be any more complicated than that. Even if we love our philosophy and theology!
May the joy of Christmas, the wonder of God made man, and the hope of the prince of peace be yours this Christmastime and always.