Monday, January 1, 2018

Is It True?

Is it true?  Is it true?

I cannot imagine a more dramatic swing in tone and content from the gospel reading on Christmas Eve to the gospel reading this morning.  On Christmas Eve we heard Luke’s heart-warming story of a birth and a manger and angels and shepherds.  It is the stuff of carols and TV specials.  This morning we listen to the soaring and majestic language of a portion of Scripture known as the prologue of John’s gospel. 

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” 

It is an incredible claim.

While Luke tells us the baby is the Son of God and that this child will do extraordinary, fantastic things, it is still possible to image Jesus to be someone like you and me.  After all, we too are children of God.  It is easy enough to think of Jesus as being just like us with the only difference being his life and his deeds are more special than yours and mine – sort of like George Washington and I are both Americans, only his life is measurably way more important than mine.  You might be able to walk away from Christmas Eve thinking about the baby Jesus in this way.  But, it is an option taken off the table this morning. 

“He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” 

John presents us with a reality that smashes to pieces any notion Christmas is a just light, gentle, fluffy, sentimental moment to be celebrated with family and friends.  For John, the Incarnation is a cosmic event having the Creative Force responsible for all reality becoming one of us in order to bring light into the darkness of our making. 

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

Today’s reading challenges us to reassess our assumptions about the Incarnation; to ask who this baby is and what the purpose of his birth might be.  The British poet John Betjeman beautifully captures all of this in his poem Christmas:

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
‘The church looks nice’ on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says ‘Merry Christmas to you all’.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children’s hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say ‘Come!’
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true, is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

It is easy to get caught up in all the trimmings and trappings of Christmas and never once give thought to what it is all about.  It is easy, as we say, to have the experience, but miss the meaning.  God in the flesh has come into God’s creation to show us how to live and move and have our being in the world as God intends it to be.  Jesus comes into the world he has made – a world we have made into a broken down, dark, and selfish place – to be a bright and restorative light.  It is a light, as Betjeman observes, we receive every time we partake of the bread and wine.

We leave the church on Christmas Eve with joy in our hearts, humming the tune of a carol in our head.  This morning, if you are really listening, you should leave this service with a question: Is it true?  Not true in the sense of did this really happen, but true in the sense of is this really what it means.  If John gets it right in the beginning of his gospel, we are living in a reality made new by God’s Incarnation in our world. 

“To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God… From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

Is it true?  Is it true?