It would perhaps be a bit of an understatement to say that in many years this has been a difficult and fractious year; a year when division rather than reconciliation appears to have been the dominant characteristic of our national life. Let’s hope and pray that next year is better; far better. Let’s hope for the return of ‘grace and truth.’
As a Christian I believe – no, strongly believe – that the answer to many of our collective problems can be found through taking seriously the story of Jesus’ birth, and his subsequent ministry. The Christian story is so rich, far richer than your average figgy pudding, that we do well to not only reflect on it, but enact it. For to be Christian means not just to assent to a set of beliefs, 100 impossible articles of doctrine and dogma before breakfast as it were, but to take a full part into entering into the ongoing drama of living Christianly. This drama, of course, begins with the welcoming of a baby, the Christ-child, as Messiah and Lord of all.
In many ways this is a remarkable thought: Jesus the living incarnation of God who is, as the letter to the Hebrews puts it, ‘appointed heir of all things,’ and the very ‘reflection of God’s glory and exact imprint of God’s very being,’ comes to earth, to be amongst us, not as some Zeus like figure, not as some Alpha Male strutting his way across the world, but as a tiny baby.
He comes to us as one of us, as God with us, and God for us. Furthermore, as Isaiah stresses he comes for 'all nations’ and ‘all the ends of the earth;’ and yet, despite the universality of his mission or purpose, he comes as a baby; flesh and blood. The fact of Christmas is simply this: that God chose to come amongst us so that he could relate directly to us.
In many ways this is a very hard message to receive or to accept: Surely, we might feel entitled to ask ourselves should God be, well, more ‘god-like,’ bigger, stronger, blazon and empirical? In fact, such is our requirement for a big, glossy and impressive God, a God who is so obviously god-like, that it becomes easier to dismiss the whole story. And, of course we are entitled to do just that for as John’s prologue makes clear: ‘his own people did not accept him.’ But, before we judge his own people you can see their point: baby born in a manger, son of a fairly ordinary couple called Mary and Joseph, who spends his early years running off to the synagogue and acting out the part of a preacher, and who earns his living as a manual labourer isn’t really a compelling narrative. Or, at least it’s not when you want your God to be impressive, Zeus-like, or to be a straightforward empirical fact. It’s not an easy story when what we want is to either make God in our own image, either real or projected, or to make him the ready-made answer to all our problems.
But, let’s pause and think for a minute or so: if God were to be just another Zeus like figure, surely the natural consequence would be that God would ultimately bound to disappoint; after all history tells us that such god-like figures always end up failing to live up to expectations. If God, or the person of Jesus Christ, was just another empirical fact, rather than an articulation of faith, the problem would be one of tyranny; either ours or God’s. For if God, rather than being a person was a fact, free-will would by necessity be entirely lost. We would either be compelled to believe in God, rendering God a tyrant, or to reject God, making us the tyrant. It’s not a very attractive set of propositions is it?
But, what we can do is to simply and faithfully accept the Christmas story. We can choose to believe that Jesus, as ‘the reflection of God’s glory and exact imprint of God’s being’ came to be amongst us; that God chose to enter fully into the human condition, as flesh and blood, as Christ incarnate, as God with us and God for us. For if this is the choice we make, it changes literally everything because to greet and receive Jesus on his terms, on ‘this happy morning’, as John insists, means that we too ‘become children of God;’ agents of ‘grace and truth.’ And, isn’t that what the world needs – isn’t this what we need - this year, next year, and every year: a whole lot more ‘grace and truth.’
As Christians, as those who by faith accept the Christ-story, the story that begins in the most unpromising of circumstances, our job is to be first recipients and then agents of change; instruments of reconcilaition; promoters of peace; advocates for dignity and justice; people of good will, purveyors of ‘grace and truth.’ Our job, having received the Christ-child, is to become Christ-like, ‘full of grace and truth.’
The way we do this is through choosing a deep fascination and enduring faith in the God who came to us at Christmas, not as yet another Zeus like figure, a pop up here today and gone tomorrow ‘god’, but as the Christ-child; the one born in a manger in a far off land; the one with the timeless manifesto; who came for all people, in all places, for all time; the one who is ‘full of grace and truth.’