Crib Service 24th of December 2010
The Word Became Flesh
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He 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. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” ’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
Over the summer a film came out named ‘Clash of the Titans’ (some of you may have seen it). If you have not seen the latest movie you have most likely seen the films that preceded it – the 1981 film of the same name starring Harry Hamlin as the hero Perseus and Maggie Smith as Thestis, and also the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts. These films tell roughly the same story. The most recent film is an epic dramatisation of the stories of Perseus and Medusa mixed with the story of Jason and the Argonauts. I will never forget the stop motion skeletons from the original Jason film – the cutting edge in graphics on show as skeletons and monsters shakily moved around as if they desperately needed to find a toilet. And of course the most recent film is a remarkable show of modern computer graphics – yet seems to lack something that made the others ‘classic.’
In the story Perseus is ‘a son of a god.’ He is the illegitimate son of Zeus with a human woman, and as such Perseus is destined for great things, he is strong, an amazing fighter, wise and clever, witty and even more muscular than Rambo. He single handedly takes on hordes of monsters and trials and over comes them. He leads a group of disciples – the Argonauts, the greatest warriors in the ancient world - who have come to follow this messianic hero that their city, Argos, may be saved from its impending doom at the hands, or rather tentacles, of the Kraken. And of course, as in all good stories, Perseus kills the Kraken, becomes the saviour of Argos, marries the King of Argos’ daughter and lives happily ever after.
Finally, at the end of the most recent film Zeus makes an offer to Perseus – because Perseus is half-god he may take a seat in Olympus instead of living on earth and may become immortal. Remarkably, Perseus refuses because he relates far more to mankind than to the Greek gods, to the love and emotions of mankind rather than the incomprehensible, cold, harsh, judgements of the Greek gods and how those gods only see the humans as mere play things. Perseus never knew the power of being a god and never wanted it, he was happy with the powers he had, the life he had.
In the 1st Century the Jews were expecting a Messiah – The son of The God. Ever since the exile to Babylon they had been expecting for a messiah to come. A messiah who would kick out the Babylonians, or later on kick out the Egyptians, or Greeks, and finally, who would kick out the Romans and give back to the Jews the Land God had promised them.
They expected a mighty warrior to come with the host of heaven, to mount a warhorse and lead the charge against the occupying forces. To kill the Roman soldiers who held their land to ransom, to purify the Holy City of Jerusalem and to cleanse the Temple from foreign taint. From of old God had promised a saviour:
A Messiah who will remove oppression and usher in a new Kingdom with himself on the throne as king. But the Jewish authorities had missed the point, and when the Son of God did come, born of David’s line, He did not come as a warrior, he came as a child, weak, feeble, reliant on others. He came not as a hero in an armour of iron but as a carpenter and teacher dressed in righteousness. He came not on a warhorse with sword drawn heading to take His throne in Jerusalem, but He entered Jerusalem on a donkey, and took the cross as His throne and exaltation… and there on that cross He died.
And that is the meaning of this ChristMass – this Mass of Christ. God did send His Son, did send the Messiah. But this Messiah was no Perseus. Perseus saved Argos, saved a city. Jesus saved the world. Perseus defeated the Kraken, Jesus defeated Death itself, Perseus killed Medusa, Jesus cast out evil spirits, healed the sick, cured the blind, gave hope to the world and smote the devil.
Zeus offered Perseus a place on Olympus because he was half god. Jesus, fully God yet fully man, offers all of us, all of us, a place in heaven, offers us all eternal life and everlasting peace, everlasting joy, no more death or sorrow or sickness or pain. Jesus offers us life even though we are not half god – indeed not any part god. That is love. And that is what Christmas is all about.
We give presents to show love to those we care for at Christmas time. But what did Jesus give exactly? The beginning of the Gospel of John reads:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”
The Word – Jesus Christ – was with God in the beginning, indeed the Word was God. Jesus is God, God who is above all words, above all things, who is more powerful, more merciful, more loving, more great then we can ever truly comprehend. This is the God who made all that is, who made us, who made this universe for us. He gave life and he is the light of the world. But then, as John tells us:
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
God became flesh and lived among us – Jesus was born of Mary. Jesus came into the world that was His own. In the tale of the Clash of the Titans, at the end Perseus who has always been on earth is offered a place in Olympus, in heaven among the other gods. But he never had the power and immortality of the other gods, to go to Olympus he would not be cursing himself, restraining himself, placing himself in pain and suffering and weakness.
But that is exactly what God did when he came down to us as a child born in Bethlehem, the City of David. He who is beyond all things placed Himself into a physical body just like ours, and He felt physical pain, emotional pain, psychological pain. He wept with sorrow and sang with joy. He who created all relied on a mother to feed Him whilst He was a helpless baby. He gave it all up, gave it up to the point of dying – God was not just born that fateful day and all was done, He lived a whole life, He experienced all we experience, even death.
And so He redeemed us all by living our life sinlessly, by restoring to humanity what it had lost – the likeness of God. And in doing so offered us salvation, a place with Him in heaven sat upon thrones if only we believe.
I went recently went to a Garden centre with a ‘Christmas grotto’ – a section set apart just for Christmas decorations and the like. It was amazing, it had singing santas, a Romani Gypsy caravan complete with fire inside and fake snow. It had a thousand, thousand, different Santa’s, more colours of tinsel and wrapping than I could count. And of course, large price tags with all of these things. Yet I was saddened by the experience. There was but one small corner of the grotto which held nativity figures as we see in this crib, one tiny section that had anything whatsoever to do with this Mass of Christ.
Did you know that Americans spend 450 Billion dollars on Christmas, every single year? 450 Billion. Did you also know that lack of clean water kills more people every day than anything else? And did you know that the estimated cost by the UN that it would take to give everyone clean drinking water is only 10 Billion dollars. I think I will leave you to do the maths as I am not very good at it without a calculator.
So I would ask all of you to ask yourselves: how will you be spending this Christmas? And how did Jesus spend Christmas? He spent it among us, He spent Christmas in time and space with people, by being present among others he loved and cared for – among the needy and the helpless, the lonely and the broken, family and friends. And that is something we all should aspire to do more of – with Christmas dinner being the perfect opportunity.
St. John also wrote in his Gospel about this commercialisation of Christmas, how the world has ignored what Christmas is all about and has replaced the message of love and hope with one of spending money, ranking up debts, wearing themselves out. John wrote that when God came into the world He had made, the world did not recognise Him, and the entire human race which He sustained, did not receive Him. But, and this is a big but, John continues to say:
“To all who received him, Jesus, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.”
We are all kept alive every second by God, but let us take up our seat at the Christmas dinner above - the feast we have been invited to because Christmas happened and God gave all He is for us, because Jesus was born in a manger and laid in a stable. And He gave it all that we may sit and eat with Him as His own children. That is the offer of a life time, so whatever you do this Christmas – do not give that offer up.