Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10 Hebrews 1: 1-4, John 1: 1-14
Hymns: O come all ye faithful: Jesus good above all other; In the bleak midwinter; Hark the herald angels sing
Kilisimasi fiefa! Selamat Hari Natal! Šubh Krisamas! Milad Mubarak! Frohe Weinachten, Happy Christmas, Kuvianak Inovia!
These greetings are said by Christians from Tonga to Alaska via Malaysia, India, Syria, and Europe, and thus from coconut palm edged beaches to thick snow and ice. Anyone who came here for a white Christmas is disappointed, and indeed many from northern Europe assume a proper Christmas must have snow: a weird connection for those in Tonga, Malaysia or much of India. While climate change will wipe out some islands in Tonga, and increases climatic instability the world over, this unusually warm Christmas here may jolts our minds to remember why we are here. We are here not to celebrate some mid-winter solstice festival amid the dark, as secularists tediously rattle on about, and is irrelevant to Tongans and Indonesians, but to celebrate ‘the Word made flesh.’ We are here to ‘see his glory, such glory as befits the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” John, in that wondrous start to his Gospel, was telling us Christ was born: Christ, who existed before the world began, “with God at the beginning:” Christ, the promise of God as told in Isaiah who announces peace, good news and salvation to all peoples whom, in todays’ psalm, he shall judge rightly and with equity. We are here to gives thanks for God come to earth and roughly wrapped in a shawl after a quick after-birth wipe down in a manger in an unquiet area of the Roman world. This same region within which and from which millions of refugees are, like Jesus’ parents when they fled to Egypt, fleeing from violence this very day. That same region in which Jesus worked, lived, died, rose, and returned to God.
That is why we meet with such joy today, to share, to be with each other and sing the familiar carols and hymns from our childhood or, for the young, to start singing the carols and hymns which will last a life-time. In twelve days, this season, though, will move on into Epiphany. So what can we carry with us as we leave church today, to carry us forward to the next time we are here, whether that is next week or next Christmas?
We have the symbol of the redeeming cross on the wall above me, the risen Christ no longer pinned to it. And we have the Light of Christ, the Light of and for the world. We make light with purchased candles, temporarily to dispel gloom as well as see in the dark. Christ’s light is freely given though costly, and longer lasting: “[his] life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness never overcame it…the true light which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
And, as we grow in faith during our lives, with many ups and downs, glitches, even times out/away from solid or even from slight faith, it is Christ’s light which can guide us, urge us on, comfort us. For while we know that we can’t sit back and idly wait for everything to fall into place, if we can trust even a little in the Light of Christ, the light Christ’s birth brought, we shall learn, and eventually know, that we are not alone, but supported, cared for, even led forward, by that Light, by God who came to us as teacher, guide and saviour this day.
Able to follow, yes, but are we willing? As we light candles this Christmastide, or just take a little time out of the bustle of food and presents, squabbles or joys to focus on the Christ within each of us, let us think on God’s only Son, full of Grace and Truth, and give thanks for the wonders of his love which we in so many ways, so many often unclear, muddled zig-zag ways, have received this past year. The God whom in Christ we greet today is not only there for each of us, but for all people, consistently, equitably, generously. As must be aim to be if we are to follow even a little of his way. The Civil Rights activist Howard Thurman lists such works of Christ’s love in this simple poem:
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.
May Christmas light up our coming year, whether we just follow the way of Jesus as a star among humans, or also follow the way of Christ, God come to earth.
Revd Dr Elizabeth Koepping
Heidelberg December 25th 2015