Christmas Day - 8.00 a.m.
In the long build-up to Christmas, which seems to begin earlier each year, we witness a commercial frenzy of advertising showing us the presents we must give, the food and drink we must consume and the different ways we can borrow money to pay for all this.
And we talk wistfully about “the real meaning of Christmas” which surely must go deeper than all this superficial hype and the stress it induces as we struggle yet again to cope with the demands and expectations of the festive season.
Christmas, we know, is really about the story of the birth of Jesus. In this story we hear of Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds, cattle and mangers, stars and kings. And, of course, the baby himself, vulnerable and tiny but wrapped up warm and safe. We bring this story to life in nativity plays and we sing carols about the baby’s birth in the little town of Bethlehem. There are many paintings and carvings in wood or stone which portray this familiar and much-loved scene.
As we look upon this nativity scene, however it’s depicted, let’s be aware also of a deeper mystery that lies behind the events of that first Christmas. Let’s consider for a while the great mystery of the incarnation which John unfolds for us in our Gospel reading and which gives Christmas its true and eternal meaning: that God himself is born to live among us and to draw us into a new relationship with him as his children.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
“In the beginning was the Word.”
John begins his book with words that echo those at the beginning of the book of Genesis: “In the beginning”. He is taking us to a dimension outside time and space where there is only God and his Word.
The first chapter of Genesis tells us about the creation of the world in terms of things we can experience through our senses: water, vegetation, animals and so on. And the climax of this creative process is God’s creation of human beings, made in his own image.
John gives us a deeper insight into this process of creation. He speaks of a mysterious Word through whom all things come into being. He seems to be describing something that represents the mind of God, the meaning and purpose God gives to everything he creates and his relationship with his creation, especially with human beings.
The climax of John’s story is that this Word of God himself takes the form of a human being in order to live alongside us.
In Genesis the first words God speaks are “Let there be light.” John proclaims that the Word who comes to live among us is that light, now shining in the darkness of a broken creation with an inextinguishable brightness.
The baby we see lying in a manger is that light of the world, shining among us and reuniting us with the light that came into being “in the beginning” when God created the heavens and the earth.
We can, if we wish, look at our nativity scenes, sing our carols and listen to the familiar readings without allowing ourselves to be part of the story they tell.
Or we can allow ourselves to be drawn deeper into the great mystery of the incarnation that John talks about. We can become aware of the light that enlightens everyone, including us; we can become aware that God’s light has come to shine in the darkness of our lives, our hearts, our minds and our spirits.
We can become aware of the invitation extended to us by this baby, this light of the world, the Word of God made flesh. That invitation is to receive the power to become children of God, to be born in a new way into that spiritual dimension outside time and space where new worlds are created, brokenness is healed, tears are wiped away and each one of us grows fully into being the men and women God created us to be.
All we have to do to accept this invitation, says John, is to accept the Word of God, to receive him and to believe in his name. His name is Jesus and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.