The Second Sunday of Christmas
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
4 January 2009, 10:30 (Christmas 2)
We live in a world where time matters.
So, let me wish you albeit belatedly, a very Happy New Year.
Yes, our calendars have changed and we have entered a new year – but does it really make any difference?
We certainly have to count and measure in order of make some kind of sense and order of our physical world and to align that outer world with the mental workings of our brains and the common life of our society.
As human beings we are pretty clever in terms of our maths and our technology but also pretty stupid in our inability to live peacefully with one another.
Difference is good and makes life what it should be: interesting, ever-changing and challenging – but at the same time we need tolerance, respect and empathy.
The world within us and around is infinitely variable and no matter how much we try to standardise and impose our order, there is an exception and the unknown to test us.
For instance, even our calendars vary enormously: if you are a Muslim the year is 1429 and if you are a Jew it’s 5769 and if you are Chinese it is 4707 and the Year of the Ox!
And not only do we start counting the years from different base points in time but we count differently: the Islamic calendar is 11 days shorter with only 354 days in a year because they use the lunar month as the base unit.
But we who use the solar cycle – our daily journey around the sun have to come to terms with the fact that it only takes 23 hours and 56 minutes so we have to add in a leap year every four years.
And now because the earth is slowing down on its axis, since 1972 we have had to add a leap second 24 times including this last New Year’s Eve.
Although we live in a world so often defined and explained and determined by accuracy and precision, the very universe in which we live is itself changing and uneven and incapable, of being controlled and defined by homo sapiens.
And this brings me to the scriptures and the life of faith.
This dimension is not some sort of optional extra for those who want to speculate beyond reason and engage in sentiment, wishful thinking or superstition.
Religious faith is about truth, the truth that transcends reason alone and which cannot be contained by our minds, our mathematics and our personal views and egos.
Christmas as a commercial event has now been swept aside in the High Street and the counting house.
The passage from Ecclesiasticus is a profound precursor to our Gospel reading from St John.
The God who is transcendent and beyond our understanding and control seeks a dwelling-place among his people and this point of
contact is mediated through the ‘tent of meeting’ and an elaborate system of sacrifices.
God in his holiness seeks out in love those he has created in his image. God seeks but we have to listen and be prepared to learn ...and change.
In the book of Ecclesiasticus we learn that Jerusalem and Mount Zion are the resting place of the nomadic tent.
Israel in 2009 would do well to reflect on the significance of God’s holiness for humanity and Israel’s role in that calling.
Jerusalem is not to be fortress or a symbol of violence and injustice and division but a place of unity and peace and promise.
For St Paul, this promise of God has now separated from geography and location into the mystery of God’s meeting place in Jesus - brother, anointed one and redeemer.
For this is what St John unfolds is the sublime words of the opening of his Gospel.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh and lived among us ...
Here is mystery that cannot be measured or managed yet human eyes have beheld God’s glory in his incarnate life. And continue to do so today.
And just as in our human- ordered world we mark the moment of change from one to another, so in time God has intervened and revealed the meaning and purpose of his creation for human beings.
This truth of God has seen the paradox and contradiction of the creator becoming the created and the eternal sharing the mortality of a human lifespan.
And by that same power God has conquered death and lives amongst us today.
Here at the Eucharist, the miracle of his incarnation and his resurrection breaks into time as by his command and invitation to take bread and wine we remember him and he becomes present to meet us.
Whoever we are and whatever we have done, God can recreate and redeem us if we will but let him.
That is the purpose of this meal and sacrifice: as people we hunger and eventually we all die – but in Jesus we are fed and we are born again into eternity.
And not just me, but ‘us’: for salvation is both personal and social.
Here is a truth beyond bottling, measuring and controlling.
It is, though, a truth that judges us and demands a response.
So the bombs on Gaza and the rockets on Israel cannot be justified; terror and destruction are not an option for those who can see the glory of God and the process and presence of his Kingdom.
Every human life is a gift and a miracle from God; we have no right to exploit each other or cause any kind of harm.
If God in Jesus lies in the crib, hangs on the cross, rises from the tomb, ascends into glory and touches and enters our lives in baptism and communion, then our lives our no longer ours alone.
He is a part of my life, your life and the world’s life.
He has barged in to what we have said down the years are our affairs and concerns. It is better to keep God and truth and love well out.
But the babe of Bethlehem and the saviour on the cross cannot be excluded from our poverty and riches, our living and our dying.
Zimbabwe and Afghanistan are not just political problems but Kingdom issues.
And it is Jesus who sides with the innocent, the oppressed, the rejected, the unlovely and the dying.
We know this because this is not only what he said but what he did ...and does.
And the Word was made flesh.
Yes, and flesh carries spirit in each and every life. And for love of the world, God gives himself in Jesus.
As we meet him this morning, the mystery and miracle of salvation touches us as the bread and wine touch our lips.
It is a ‘Passover moment’ when we are reclaimed to enter eternity and become Christ’s for the world.
You may have stayed up on Wednesday night to see the New Year in, but however good the party and noble your resolutions it is as nothing to the miracle of God in the crib and on the altar.
...and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Christmas; the themes are exhausted.
Yet there is always room
on the heart for another
snowflake to reveal a pattern.
Love knocks with such frosted fingers.
I look out. In the shadow
of so vast a God, I shiver, unable
to detect the child for the whiteness.
Blind Noel ~ R S Thomas