2017 Christmas Eve Sermon
John 1 & Hebrews 1
St Peter's Church, Guildford
Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. In the noise and activity, the demands and the challenges of Christmas preparations, not much of our attention is able to rest in the silence of which the carol speaks. We have written our cards and we have wrapped our presents. We have shopped, and then shopped some more and perhaps even this evening made our preparations for the impending Christmas lunch. In many ways the contemporary Christmas is an acceleration of the demands of our culture; imploring us to do more, to buy more and to never, ever sit still. When stillness and silence are the great enemy of our time, this night jars with us as much as it fills us with great wonder. Perhaps this is why, of all the Christmas services taking place throughout advent, for many of us, it is this silent night that resonates with us in the most meaningful of ways.
We know, of course, that there are different kinds of silence. We know all to well the silence that comes from apathy, from a lack of care, but this is not that silence. This is not the silence of slumber, the part presence of someone in body while the mind in dream. Nor is this the silence of death; an absence, a void and nothingness.
The silence of this night is a different kind of silence. It anticipates; it waits for something, it is poised and expectant. This is the silence of the theatre when the operatic singer draws breath before filling every space with the power and beauty of her voice. This is the silence of the Olympic stadium after the cry of set, yet before the clap of the gun signals the start of the race. It is the silence of the liminal space; the threshold between what was and is and what is to come. Occurring only when the old has fallen apart yet before the new has emerged, this silence is pregnant with purpose, full of longing and it scans the horizon for the event, the happening, the realisation of the new that is to come.
This is the message of the gospels; that something has happened, that the event of all the events has occurred before our very eyes, and that happening was Emmanuel, God with us. Like any event, people see and record it from different angles, from unique perspectives, and this is true of the witness of the gospel writers. We have read John’s cosmological account of the Christmas story; it is the story of God as Trinity, the story of the whole of the created order, the story of humanity all rolled into just 18 verses of scripture.
What is the content of the event, of the occurring? John says that “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”, or perhaps, like me, you’ll appreciate the message translation; “the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood”. John is telling us God’s story; a story that is told by God, is about God and is for God. God is at once the narrator of the story, content of the plot line and the outcome of the climax. It is the story of God’s decision to love the world in spite its brokenness, the recording of his becoming as one of us in the life of Jesus Christ, and the reason for his coming; that we have the right to become children of God.
We know that God’s story is one that surprises us. Not conventional at all, His beginning is one of inhabiting a feeding trough for a crib in a damp and dusty stable. It is outrageous that God may be born a human, let alone to a peasant girl in a backwash village in the middle east. Yet this was not the Son’s beginning at all; he was, as the creed says, begotten and not made. John tells us that there has not been a time when he was not, that he was with God and was God from the beginning. It is here, perhaps, we encounter the limits of our language and concepts. John articulates the son as means through which God created the cosmos, and describes him as the life of which we all share. Perhaps one of the great mysteries of this story is this; that he lay there, vulnerable and profoundly reliant upon that which he himself had called into being.
And so at Christmas we celebrate his coming and marvel at what he reveals to us and the whole of creation. The person of Jesus Christ is the visible and exact representation of the Father, in whom we encounter the glory of God. He came as a provision of purification for sin, and we remember that he, like all gifts, must be received in faith, that we may be purified and adopted as Children of God. Yet as it was then and is still now, many remain unable to recognise him and many still refuse to acknowledge the gift of the Christ child to the world.
And so we wait in this the liminal space of what is and what is to come. This silent night, this holy night is when we remember again, that like the operatic singer, God drew his breath, preparing to speak. God was about to speak a word, a final word, of which the content is the life, death and resurrection of the Son, Jesus of Nazareth. This Christmas, God invites each one of us to look again at the content of that word, to recognise and encounter his glory, and then to receive his gift of new life.
Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love's pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth