Christmas 1 2008
I enjoyed my Christmas this year, actually I enjoy my Christmas celebrations every year, and the many and varied services I took part in were quite moving and very enjoyable. But now the big day has come and gone, the present wrappings have all been cleared up, the aftermath of the mammoth meal has been dealt with, and we settle down to another dose of reality after all of the celebrations have finished. Of course we still have the New Year to see in, but Christmas is past until next August when the shops put their decorations up again.
Or is it? For those of us who believe in the reality of the life of Christ then our celebration of Christmas carries on throughout the year, or rather our celebration of the essence of Christmas carries on throughout the year. Every time we say the creed we say we believe in the Christ who was made incarnate of the virgin Mary, and this word ‘Incarnation’ is one that should inform our whole life and faith.
It’s the same as the fact that every time we take part in Holy Communion we re-enact the fateful events of the last supper even as we celebrate the risen life of our Lord. Christian’s are ‘Easter people’ and ‘Christmas people’ all the year round. I believe this is a good reason for enjoying the Christian life, and not perpetuating the myth that Christians are all ‘black suits, black books and black looks’
The theme of our readings and the prayer for this week is that of incarnation. Incarnation is something that comes into a lot of Christian Theological conversations and a word that is much used by Christian Theologians and Teachers - but it is something that passes most of us by, and to dwell on the minutia of so-called ‘Incarnational Theology’ can be a bit of a distraction from the everyday Christian life! But Incarnation is something that forms the basis of the unique revelation of our Faith and so it does bear some looking at.
Incarnation is an exciting part of the Christian Faith - no, really! It shows us that we have a God who is willing to come alongside us, to be a part of the earthiness of human life. Our God is ‘down to earth’ in the most real and solid manner. Jesus was not ‘God in disguise’, he did not walk a couple of inches off of the ground, he did all the things that we do - ate, slept, laughed, cried, went to the loo, the lot. He did not escape the suffering that is common to the human condition, nor did he miss out on the joys of being a part of the world.
In becoming human, God gave his ultimate approval to humanity. This echoes the words at the very start of scripture - “God saw all that he had made, and behold it was very good.” You see, God likes us. God is on our side. When we think about the judgement of God we should think in terms of him being someone who longs to judge in our favour, not who is seeking to put us down and punish us. The Incarnation tells us that God longs to draw us closer to himself, and in order to make this possible is willing to come alongside us and be a part of our world.
So we are right to put great stock in the Incarnation. Incarnation is God revealing himself in a way that we can not only understand intellectually but in our hearts. God is not just a God of rationality, but of feeling, of our mind and emotions, and our whole lives.
Incarnation allows us to engage with God at the deepest level, knowing that God understands us even when we do not understand God. That even when we feel that we don’t believe in God - GOD BELIEVES IN US.
That’s a good way of thinking of the incarnation - it proves that God believes in us. No matter how far we feel we have fallen, God waits with open arms. In one of the prayers in the modern Church liturgy for the Eucharist we have the most wonderful phrase:
‘Father of all, we give you thanks and praise that when we were still far off, you met us in your Son and brought us home.’
God comes to us. God embraces us in the way that the father in Jesus story embraces the son who spent all of his inheritance. God is not stand-offish, distant or unaware of what our lives are like. God is intimately involved in the world that he has made, and is a part of every experience we go through.
One of the titles that we use over and over again at Christmas time is the title ‘Emmanuel’ - God with us. God is with us, let’s never forget that, let’s hold on to that fact and use it to inform our lives and our faith.
So what does all this incarnational stuff mean in practical terms, what difference should it make to the way we act or think or speak?
Firstly - incarnation reminds us that I am precious in God’s sight. Me. I am loved beyond measure. God loves me enough to come and share my life and experience.
Secondly - incarnation reminds us that those who share our lives are equally valued by God. We should treat our neighbours in a way that reflects the love that God has for them. Do you hold others in such high regard? Does the way we treat those we live and work with, those who share our lives, in a way that reflects their value to God?
Thirdly - incarnation reminds us that we cannot ever accuse God of not knowing how we feel. We have no ground to stand on. God knows first hand what it is like to be human, to be poor, oppressed, persecuted. God knows the joys that this world can bring, and the pains - and goes through them with us.
Finally - incarnation shows us what we are capable of. We human beings, made in the image of God, are able to attain greatness. We cannot explain away what Jesus did by saying ‘well, he was God, wasn’t he?’ - if we believe he was God, it was only in such a way as was limited by being human. Jesus was not the deluxe model human, with extra bells and whistles. Jesus was as human as we are - those who shared his life knew that he was a man, but they saw in him something that reflected who and what God is.
So we pray in our prayer for this Sunday, the collect, ‘grant that, as he came to share in our humanity so we may share in the life of his divinity.’ We are capable of being like Christ - not just in the world to come, but in our lives today. We will fail and fall, but like Christ, with faith we can move forward. We too have the ability to share life in communion with God, to be more than we can imagine.
The Incarnation says to us that God wants to make more of us, to free us from the shackles that we create for ourselves, shackles of fear, sin and lack of forgiveness. God can change us, can make us more like himself - we have to learn to let him. May the reality of God made human deepen our faith, and give us the freedom to be more like Christ, to be the people that God has truly made us to be.