Thursday, 25 December 2014

To give and to receive the best
of all presents this Christmas

The Birth of Christ, a Christmas icon by Juliet Venter, from The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge, 2014

Patrick Comerford

25 December 2014, Christmas Day

The Nativity of our Lord

10 a.m.,
The Parish Eucharist, Saint Werburgh’s Church, Dublin.

Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1: 1-4 (5-12); John 1: 1-14 (15-18).

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I know you are not expecting a sermon this morning, and that everyone would like to get home as soon as possible to spend the rest of Christmas Day with the family.

But on this day we celebrate, as Saint John says in our Christmas Gospel reading, that “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” And so it would be a pity this morning if we did not share a few words about the Word that was in the beginning and that came to dwell among us.

It is a puzzle to the followers of other religions in the region where Saint John the Evangelist was living that the God of Christians is described not in terms of power and might and majesty, but as the Word.

Tradition tells us that Saint John spends his last days in the Eastern Mediterranean, in prison on the island of Patmos, and then in Ephesus, where the Johannine church lived side by side with the worshippers of the cult of Artemis, whose temple was one of the seven wonders of the world.

The incarnate God, the Word made Flesh, was not the sort of God his neighbours could accept. Nor was he the sort of Messiah his contemporaries could expect.

The sort of Messiah that was expected at the time was one who would drive out the Romans, who would reallocate and redistribute the positions of power and authority, who would make them feel good about themselves.

But the God revealed at Christmas-time, to the Shepherds in Bethlehem and then to the Magi, is not just God incarnate, God become human, but God who takes on all our frailty, all our weakness, all our vulnerability. As Canon Giles Fraser pointed out in the Guardian recently, this is God as a human baby, at “the raw limits of human existence.”

God almighty, God the creator, is not a remote powerful, awesome and fearsome despot hidden behind the clouds, high in the sky. The God who loves us becomes a powerless baby, with all the needs and all the screams of a helpless baby.

God loves us, and all we can do in response is to love God, and to love one another.

God gives up all his power, position, place and authority, not empower us and to make us strong and brave, but to call us to love, to love more and to love more fully.

And the first people to hear this Good News were not the powerful merchants in the warmth and comfort of the bright city, but the shepherds in the isolated cold and dark on the hillside.

The first people to hear this Good News were not Herod and his courtiers in the warmth and comfort of his bright place, but three wise men or kings who give up their own privileges to travel in the cold and dark to a strangely poor household.

At the heart of the Christmas story is Christ’s teaching that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

If you feel last, forgotten and powerless this Christmas, then God has identified with you, identifies with you now, this Christmas, in his incarnation, in the Christmas story.

The religion of the baby born in Bethlehem is not the religion of power, and wealth and privilege. It is about love, unconditional love. And the greatest Christmas presents are the love of God and the love of others. To give and receive these are to give and receive the greatest Christmas presents of all.

So, may all we think, say and so be in the name of + the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This reflection was shared at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Werburgh’s Church, Dublin, on Christmas Day, 25 December 2014.

Collect:

Almighty God,
you have given us your only-begotten Son
to take our nature upon him
and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin:
Grant that we, who have been born again
and made your children by adoption and grace,
may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9: 6).

Preface:

You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:

Post Communion Prayer:

God our Father,
whose Word has come among us
in the Holy Child of Bethlehem:
May the light of faith illumine our hearts
and shine in our words and deeds;
through him who is Christ the Lord.

Blessing:

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
all things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with his joy and peace:
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be with you and remain with you always. Amen.

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