Christmas – Behold his glory!

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us
full of grace and truth….and we beheld his glory

Today is a day for joy and for peace; it is a day for songs and for feasting!

We have a simple message to us from God – it comes to us in our Bible readings and in the crèche scene here.  God loves us and took flesh to become one of us that we might become gods (Athanasius) – partakers of the Divine nature, full of grace and truth, and gifted with eternal life.

Mystical Nativity, Sandro Botticelli, 1501
Mystical Nativity, Sandro Botticelli, 1501

It is the simplest of messages that a child can understand at some level – it was wonderful to see the children at the Crib Service yesterday.  There was a point where they were asked to place their candle on the straw (don’t worry, they were safe battery lighted candles!) in the crèche – and without anyone explaining where to put them, some were reaching out to place the candle as close as possible to the manger and the Christ child.

It is a simple message.  But it is also the answer or at least one part of the answer to the most sublime of mysteries that the greatest philosophers and theologians have longed to know and realize – how can there be a mediation, an exchange, a union, between humanity and God, between our small lives here and the greatness of the life of God?

All of our best efforts of heart and soul and mind to lift ourselves up…only seem to end in failure.  We have a longing for union with God.  Are we to be eternally frustrated or is there not some way that can be opened up between heaven and earth?  The answer of Christmas is yes, there is a way, and it begins by beholding the Christ child, the baby Jesus, in a lowly stable in Bethlehem.  God, who is perfect, complete in Himself, Three in One – reaches out to us out of the superabundance of His love, to join himself to us, that he might draw us to Himself.

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Without the Birth of Jesus, the Creation itself shows us the glory of God.  The psalmist (19) says, The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament (the earth) shows His handiwork. There is neither speech nor language: but… their sound is gone out into all lands: and their words into the ends of the world.

The beauty and glory of the Creation itself speaks to us, with its own language, of God’s glory.  Yet that does not seem to be enough, or we would all be on our knees worshipping God.  But we know that not all people do.  And we know ourselves, that we are often unthankful and go about our lives oblivious, asleep to God, focused on what we have to do or what we don’t have, and even losing hope and desire that we might see divine visions and dream holy dreams and participate in that Divine life, that life of adventure, of spiritual flourishing and of deep love for one another.

God knows our suffering and so God appears in the Creation, in the flesh, where our tired eyes are fixed.

In the Creation has he set a tabernacle (a tent, a body) for the Sun; says the psalmist (19): which comes forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber; And rejoices as a giant to run His course.  Out of the Virgin’s womb, from Mary, God comes to us, not to condemn us, but as a bridegroom, full of joy, desiring the consummation of love between God and humanity.

He goes forth from the uttermost part of the heaven, and runs about unto the end of it again.

St John says, the Word was God…and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.  And the Apostles beheld his glory…(John 1:14)  And St Paul says after making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.  (Hebrews 1:1-12)  And, in that movement of God towards us and to dwell among us and to return to heaven, there is nothing hid from the heat thereof, from the heat of that Son.  His love reaches everywhere, even the darkest place of our hearts.

Maybe we even feel the purifying fire of His love today, the rekindling in our hearts of a love for, a longing for God and for a better, purer, more authentic love towards those closest to us.  This is what he promises.

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God is not satisfied speaking words at a distance by prophets (though by them, he has prepared the way) but takes flesh and speaks words from His own lips and teaches us by the example of a perfect human life lived here.

Jesus, God in the flesh, shows us…

  • a new idea of what greatness isWhoever would be great among you must be the servant of all;
  • a new idea of justice and mercyI did not come to judge or condemn the world but to save the world.
  • a new idea of “the good life” – it is not about getting a lot of things outwardly, but it is about virtue, holiness and purity of heart – blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God;
  • a new idea of love – it is about forgiveness and self sacrifice – the highest love is to lay down our life for our friends, and to love our enemies – something he showed us in the flesh;
  • a new relation to pain and suffering – we seek its relief but we don’t avoid it at all cost, knowing that our Lord was perfected through his suffering in the flesh – in his Passion and Death upon the Cross;
  • a new idea of grief and sorrow – we grieve over the loss of loved ones, we know that the death of a Christian is the worst day of his life but in faith we know it is also the best day of his life. We are promised that it is a day of new vision, a day of the consummation of love, it is the day of glory, …and we console one another with this new hope shown us by Jesus, who rose up from death, in the flesh.

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So he shows us in the midst of the Creation by being in the Creation.

And yet his example is not enough in itself to change us, as the Creation was not enough.  Though his example and the Creation itself become more important as we are sanctified we begin to see that glory again.  But something else must happen first.

And to all who did receive him, who believed in his Name, to them he gave power to become the children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. 

We must receive him.  But we don’t receive Jesus today simply by a kind of projecting of our minds back to that day in the stable, nor merely by accepting a certain teaching about who Jesus is, nor by trying to evoke certain feelings – they are so hard to sustain.   God knows how unstable we are in our minds and in our hearts.

Honthorst, Adoration of Shepherds 1622.jpg
Adoration of Shepherds, Honthorst, 1622

God took flesh of the Virgin Mary and was born into this world that there would be a more sure and certain way for the union of our souls and bodies with God.  And he told us before he left us how this comes about…how are we born of God?

  • We are united mystically with Jesus through our baptism – we needn’t question any more if we are his – nothing can now separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, nothing (e.g. John 3, Mark 16:16; Romans 8:37-39).
  • That union with God through Jesus Christ deepens as we exercise the gift of faith implanted by Him, that is, as we lovingly follow him in our lives (e.g. John 14:21-24).
  • And God can and will strengthen that union further here today in Holy Communion as we humble ourselves and allow our bodies to be made clean by His body and our souls to be washed through His most precious blood.

Christmas is the simplest of messages that we can all understand at some level – God loves us and took flesh to become one of us that we might become gods – partakers of the Divine nature, full of grace and truth as he is, and gifted with eternal life.  Let us adore Him and follow Him and share with others the Good News this day and always.

O that birth for ever blessed!
    When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
    Bare the Saviour of our race,
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed his sacred face,
        Evermore and evermore. 

Amen.