Sermon - Christmas Day 2017

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Christmas Day 2017.

Scripture: John 1-14

John’s gospel has some of the most memorable passages in the Bible.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

I am the way, the truth and the life: no-one cometh unto the Father but by me.

This is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you.

And to that small selection let me add the opening verses of John’s gospel.

Known as the Prologue this magnificent text introduces us not so much to the detail of Jesus’ ministry but to the mystery of God’s presence and promise.

And at the very heart of the prologue John takes us to the heart of so much of what we believe and hold dear;

And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

John’s gospel is notably different from the other three gospels.

Known as the synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke present an action packed account of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Jesus is the wandering preacher, teacher and healer and their accounts tell of the twists and turns of the journey as Jesus and his disciples make their way from the towns and villages of Galilee to Jerusalem and his fateful encounter with its religious authorities.

By comparison John’s gospel is much more considered and much of what he writes bears all the hallmarks of careful theological reflection.

John is concerned not just to tell us what happened, he wants to discern its meaning.

And if that concern is evident throughout his gospel, it is certainly evident in the prologue.

Long before any modern scientific knowledge about the big bang or the long process of evolutionary biology, John begins his gospel with the quite remarkable claim that human beings were neither first nor are alone in the world.

The Word was first, the Word was in the beginning, and the Word was with God.

And from that dramatic starting point emerges John’s even more dramatic insight - that the same Word which was first and was with God in the beginning has come to live among us………………and we beheld his glory.

Of course John knows it is more than we will ever be able to fully understand or explain – yet paradoxically, that in a sense is his point……….. and it reminds me of a colleague’s story about a couple in her congregation.

The man was very anti-religion and anti-church and every Sunday he would mock his wife as she got ready for church.

At Christmas time he made it particularly hard for her.

What kind of God is it who came to earth as a baby, he would ask, God born of a woman and lying in a manger.

It was, he claimed, a ridiculous story, until that is, one Christmas Eve when his wife went off to the watchnight service at her church and it began to snow heavily.

The husband heard a hard battering against the outside door.

Opening the door he discovered several birds, disorientated by the snow storm, flying into the wall of the house, stunning themselves, and then fluttering up against the front door.

At first he tried to catch one, then he tried to shoo them away, but all his efforts failed.

As he stood quite helpless watching the birds becoming more distressed, the thought came to him that if only he was a bird he could save them and show them the way to safety.

What a stupid thought – if only he was a bird – and in that moment (for that is how God sometimes touches us) a light shone in his darkness and he glimpsed and believed the deep truth of what he had long dismissed as foolishness, the doctrine of the incarnation, the Christmas gospel, the story of a child in the manger, God with us, God among us, God come as one of us to save us and lead us to safety.

A scandal, outrageous, an impossible possibility: this is John’s claim, this is our faith, that in the warm breathing, laughing, crying child in a manger, the Word that was with God in the beginning, that same Word became flesh as God came among us – and comes among us still.