Sermon for Christmas Eve, Thursday, December 24 2015, 9:00 pm
Mtr. Maggie Helwig, Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto
Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14
“In the beginning,” say the first words of John’s gospel—and we are taken back to the first words of Genesis, to the unformed chaos, to the void, the noisy meaningless crashing like a storm on the water at night, but even less than that. And in the void, God speaks. And that speech, that language, that word, create sense and meaning in the emptiness, and suddenly it is no longer brutal chaos but beloved creation, a world of light and darkness, of earth and sea, of distinct and beautiful creatures. God enters into the void, and it is filled with language and with life.
And in the story of the gospel, God enters into another chaos, into the void of our broken world, the chaos of Jesus’s time and ours, military occupation, poverty, selfishness and greed, violence and the abuse of power and the endless, meaningless competition for imaginary victories. Into the dissonant noise of our confused selves, our grasping loneliness, our clashing, aching desires, our failures and our pains. God enters this story as another Word, the word come into human flesh, come as a crying child on the margins of society, lost in a crowded city—the Word unable to speak a word, Lancelot Andrewes said. God comes in absolute vulnerability, among the poorest and most vulnerable, chooses to be there, to make this weakness, this poverty, visible as the place of holiness.
And suddenly, through this coming, there is meaning in those dark streets. Suddenly the human world is a world God loves enough to join, a beloved creation once more, a world perhap not yet redeemed, but a world redeemable, a world savable, a world worth saving. And we are creatures redeemable, beloved, we are worth saving too. That is what is says, this coming of the Word into flesh. That we, these complicated animals made of meat and dirt and bone and muscle, of blood and nerves, of mistakes and longings and the ache for beauty, that we are loved by a God who desires us enough to come and be with us, be one of us.
Tomorrow we’ll hear the narrative, Luke’s story of shepherds and angels and a frightened teenage couple in a barn, and a child laid in a feed trough, because there was no room for God to be born anywhere else but there. Tonight, though, we have the majestic poetry of John, the long view, the language which pierces through narrative into the timeless. “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” It’s traditional to kneel, when that sentence is read, because it is that astonishing, because the thought of it should knock us to our knees in awe. Creation was made by God’s speech; and now that speech, that identity, that meaning, comes into our world as a human person, a refugee baby in a feed trough, born to a displaced girl in a dangerous time, and all because of love. Only because of love. God in flesh, the son of man, the child of humanity.
At this turning of the year, this turning of time, it is a moment of wonder and and a moment of crisis—because to such love we are called to respond. God has come into our human reality so that our human lives can be transformed, so that we ourselves, each one of us, can begin to live into what we were always meant to be, the special, incomparable, beloved children of God. To live into the absolute love and self-offering of the child of Bethlehem, the one who would walk with lepers and the outcast, share meals with women and tax collectors and all the wrong people, who would heal the desperate and the undeserving, kneel down to wash the feet of his friends, who would accept in his own body all the worst that power could do, and respond not with violence but with love, and with the new life that rises up, always, again and again. To live this out in our own time, however we are able, whether it is giving a cup of coffee to someone in the cold, reaching out to someone estranged, or—for that matter—locking yourself to a pipeline valve by Sarnia, as some of our friends did a few days ago, to say that this earth matters, that this world matters, that God’s creation must not be sold for money. We all have our own callings. We must only find them.
Because we are redeemable, worth saving, beloved enough to be invited into God’s ongoing work of making a world of justice and compassion, of safety and beauty for everyone, all the left out and left over, all of us.
We will mostly fail, of course we will, for all our best efforts. But the light will not abandon us. The darkness, our translation says, has not overcome it—will never overcome it. But the older translation is even more evocative, and more faithful to the original Greek. The darkness, it says, has not comprehended it. Has not seized it, cannot control the light, but even more, has not understood, cannot understand. All the evil in this world cannot control the love of God, because it cannot understand it, the love that is self-giving, the love that creates us and through which we create our lives, our relationships, our own truth and loveliness. That light is always being born, and that light will always be born, and we, in all our weakness, need only to keep turning, always turning, towards live and towards love.