Every year, in the week after Christmas, I hit “The Day” or perhaps more precisely “The Day” hits me. The day is when my Christmas spirit vanishes like Santa going back up the chimney without having left any presents. Suddenly I feel rather deflated and even defeated. All I can think is that Christmas has been such hard work and it has not been what I expected; but then again is it ever? This year it was Tuesday the 28th when the day arrived. Happily, by Wednesday morning the gloom had dispersed.
Count your blessings
If you are a fellow sufferer, you may be wondering how I got through it? Well, what really helped me this time was that old advice to count your blessings. Advice which I know is guaranteed not only to irritate but also anger when you are not in the mood for it; which is probably why I had absolutely no intention of counting mine or anyone else’s blessings at all last Tuesday. Instead, to at least try and do something useful, I turned to the scripture readings for Sunday. Yes, I was that desperate…
I imagined that I would depress myself even more by contemplating my next sermon, this sermon, and for a while it did depress me, thinking that Matthew and Luke’s cheery nativity stories would have been more uplifting than John’s non-nativity/nativity. Not a star or stable in sight. No shepherds shocked into action by angelic hosts. No Mary and Joseph gazing adoringly at their baby. Not even the wee donkey! We all know that it is the traditional nativity is the story that most folk prefer at Christmas. But trust me and put aside any disappointment in John’s approach and turn, just as I did, to the other readings set for today: Jeremiah 31:7-14 and Ephesians 1:3-14.
Waiting for the Messiah
Around 600 years separated these two writings, and in every one of those years (and for centuries before as well) the Jewish people had been waiting for the Messiah. The Prophet Jeremiah writes wonderfully of the Messiah who will bring home the exiles. All those who has felt themselves separated from God will be welcomed home. Every one of them.
The prophet writes: See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labour, together; a great company, they shall return here.
God had a plan
Here is the promise of redemption for all. And after reading this I felt my spirits begin to lift and those blessings beginning to be counted. Then I turned to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. This was a letter he possibly wrote in prison although, equally possibly one of his followers actually wrote it. That doesn’t matter. What does matter is that in it we are told that God had a plan and he always had.
Paul (or not Paul) tells us that it is: “a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” This is the redemption of all, the joyous homecoming of all, the gathering up of all things in the lavish love and mercy of God.
Here is another promise of redemption, or more accurately, here is one promise which has been repeated time and time again; even when no one was listening it was there. God’s plan and God’s were in place before the beginning of the world. I don’t think it matters a jot whether that took a week or countless millennia. The miracle was that it happened. The miracle was that the plan was there, and it worked.
The Word made flesh
God’s plan for his people, was realised through the incarnation. It was realised through, in and by the word made flesh. So now, we are back to John and his non-nativity/nativity story and it also brings us back to all those who waited for the Messiah but somehow missed him (and all those who are missing him still or don’t even realise that he was and is here to miss).
John speaks of the messiah as the one who “was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him”.
They “Did not accept him.” Now that is something which is a concern, not just to God but to us, or it should be. This shows that the separation still goes on for so many and that it is a separation only we, humanity creates. This is the pain that John reflects in the opening chapter of his Gospel. The separation that had gone on so long for the children of Israel that they could no longer see or accept when salvation came.
Promise of salvation
Thankfully John also gives us the Good News; the promise of salvation is to be realised. Luke and Matthew tell us how this was understood by a mere handful at first: Mary and Joseph; a handful of shepherds; mysterious travellers from a far distant land; a terrified king; 2 old people at the temple; an elderly first time mother and her child, John the Baptist. John, who is the only person, mentioned in today’s gospel. Because John the Apostle was not writing a story about people, he was writing about the reality of God’s plan for his people.
Well, this is Theology. Don’t be put off by that word, all it really means is thinking about God so, we are all theologians and at the heart of our theology is The Word – the word made flesh. Jesus taking on our humanity to save humanity. But let’s be clear humanity has always been involved in God’s plan and still is. Because the Christmas story as written by John is not just a story of God making his plan happen it is God calling his people once again. Here is God calling all of us to be involved. Calling us to help make his plan happen, for ourselves and for everyone.
The Christmas Story
John, Jeremiah and Paul all saw that and responded. The prophet Jeremiah told us that God wants nothing more than for us to be with him. Paul told us that we had always been part of God’s plan and we had always been the beneficiaries. John told us how this will be achieved through the incarnation, the word made flesh. The Word became flesh and lived among us. No stars or shepherds, no angels, no baby in a manger; but it is the Christmas Story, and it brings enough blessings to last a lifetime.
“The Christmas Story” was proclaimed by Elizabeth Binns at Christ Church Walmersley on Sunday 2nd January 2022. It was based on Jeremiah 31:7-14 and Ephesians 1:3-14 and John 1: 10-18. Beryl Cook’s picture of Madonna and Child is Elizabeth’s favourite picture and is shown here with grateful thanks. Copyright © John Cook 2021. www.ourberylcook.com.