Sermon for Christmas Day – High Mass Monday 25 December 2017
Sermon preached by The Vicar, Fr Alan Moses
CHRISTMAS 2017 HIGH MASS OF THE DAY
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory.”
“Actions,” we say, “speak louder than words.”
We speak of “body language,” which can show our true feelings; whether for good or ill.
“Words,” we say, “are cheap.” We are bombarded with them every day.
Images, too, are everywhere; flashing in front of us on television screens, on our phones. So many that we barely pay them attention, and yet, subliminally. They affect the way we think and act. We flick through Facebook posts or Twitter feeds. And yet, the more of this information we have at our fingertips, the shorter our attention spans seem to get; the smaller our capacity to absorb it.
Politicians and advertisers use words and images, as often as not to deceive rather than to inform. We have grown cynical about much that we hear. We suspect that what we see may not be all that it seems. We have grown to distrust what we hear and see, even the evidence of our own eyes and ears.
Yet, at the same time, we can be gullible; so easily seduced by words and images. The power of words and images can spring from their capacity to give us hope, or make us feel wanted or admired; even if that hope is a false one and the apparent approval a self-interested lie. Words and images can be creative or destructive, loving or cruel, true or false, beautiful or ugly.
In ourselves, let alone in others, we see or sense the mismatch between words and actions, between intentions and outcomes. We can be quick to spot in others the hypocrisy which hides behind a mask that pretends to be something it is not. In our more honest moments of self-awareness, we even see it in ourselves. We can, too, recognize integrity in others: a unity and wholeness of words and deeds, which inspires us to emulate it; to “go and do likewise.”
“A picture is worth a thousand words,” says an old Chinese proverb which has been absorbed into the common sense wisdom of the English-speaking world.
So, what must an acting, living, moving picture, be worth? For that, say the Letter to the Hebrews, is what we have in Jesus Christ, We hear in its opening verse that in the past God had spoken to his people in many and various ways, but “now he has spoken to us in his Son;” who “reflects the glory of God, and bears the very stamp of his nature?
He is, another New Testament writer says, “the image of the invisible God.” If we ask what is God like, the answer is that he is like Jesus. In him, in his life and in his deeds and words, we have the body language of God. That is, in the life of a person in whom we have been give the “body language” of God’ the one in whom we behold the glory of God.
The readings for this Christmas Mass are full of words carefully chosen and ordered; as much poetry as prose. They are words which call for our attention; to be pondered as we will hear in next Sunday’s Gospel how Mary “pondered all these things in her heart.”
They are words which speak to us of God’s actions in creating and sustaining the world and us. John begins his hymn about Christ by deliberately echoing the book of Genesis and its opening hymn of the Creator and creation: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth….And he saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good.”
The Gospel identifies Christ as the creative Word of God we hear of in Genesis, and it reaches from that culture to another, from the Hebrew to the Greek, to speak of him as the wisdom, the reason which orders and sustains the universe.
In that account of creation in Genesis, we hear that human beings were created in God’s own image. So, if we would know not just what God is like, but what we are meant to be, then we must look to the image of God we are given in Jesus Christ – for there, in his self-giving love we see the perfect image and pattern of our humanity too.
This is not a set of abstract theories about how to live but a living relationship. God is personal not abstract. What is true of God is true of us. We are not disembodied spirits but people of flesh and blood. We are not solitary individuals but people who live in relationship with others – families and friendship and communities.
It is fashionable these days to speak of being “spiritual” rather than “religious.” But “spiritual” can so easily become vague or self-absorbed. “Religion” has had a bad press, even among some theologians, but its root lies in something which binds us together. The spiritual in the New Testament is that which is of God and the God we see in Jesus Christ is no abstraction.
The Word, the divine reason and wisdom, which creates and sustains the universe is not a principle but a person; the word made flesh and blood, the one who came to share our life, not just for a short while but forever. He is the one who has bound our lives, our flesh and blood, to his, so that we might be remade in the image of God. He became the child of Mary that we might become the children of God.