Christmas Day 1999

Joy to the world; the Lord is come; Let earth receive her King:
Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and Nature sing

Let me come straight to the point.

The question which each of us should be asking himself today is "why are we meeting here today to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ?"

Why are we celebrating something which happened 2000 years ago rather more than one of the many other important things which have taken place since then and more recently?

The writer of the Second Reading which we heard this morning gives us the first important clue. He says:

"God spoke to our ancestors through to prophets; but in our own time, the last days, he has spoken to us all through his Son."

He is telling us that the Incarnation, the enfleshment of God the Son in the person of Jesus Christ marks an unmistakable dividing line between the "times in the past" and "our own time, the last days"

The writer tells us what actually happened on the first Christmas Day. God spoke to us through his only-begotten Son. More importantly, if we didn't believe that this is so, if for instance we think (like many people appear to) that Jesus was no more than "a very good man" then we are certainly wasting our time together here this morning. If Jesus is not God them we might just as well join the majority of our fellow citizens, eating, drinking, and being merry for tomorrow, next year, some time in the not-too-distant future, we die and that's the end of it.

But if Jesus is God, as we believe, then what difference does the Incarnation of make to us? Here we must look at St John's gospel where the writer tells us "although his own people did not accept him, to all who did accept in he gave power to become children of God".

In other words the process which we call the Incarnation has made it possible for all time for people like you and me to become something which by nature we could never be, the sons of God.

That leaves just one question to be asked which is "how do we go about this process of transformation into the new creatures that God planned as to be?"

Now this is the question which causes the most problems for ordinary people to grasp. Not because the answer itself is difficult to understand. It isn't. But you can tell from the things people say about the Church that they think they know the answer already, whereas the fact is they simply don't.

When people say things like "there's nothing in the Church for people like me" or "I can live the good life without belonging to the Church" it's obvious that not only what they're saying is wrong (which it is) but they have fatally misunderstood the very question they are trying to answer.

It's at this point that the truth of the Incarnation becomes essential to understanding what God has done is doing. Listen to what St John says.

"The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we be held his glory, glory as of the only-begotten of the Father."

What made the whole difference to man's relationship with God was the fact that God himself took flesh of the Virgin Mary and became a man. He wasn't, as many people imagine, just "a very good man" who somehow "assumed" or "converted" into the Godhead,. He wasn't as others like Jehovah's witnesses try to make us believe, a sort of super-angel sent by God to encourage his chosen people to be his witnesses to mankind.

No. Christians have said right from the earliest times that God the Son, the Word, was incarnate (that is "made flesh") and almost the most important thing that follows from this is that it gives an entirely new value to our flesh, the human body, yours and mine. It means that God has chosen to work through human beings. It's what you and I do, or don't do with ourselves our souls and bodies that will very largely determine how God works his purposes out in any given place or time.

Do we (in the words of another New Testament writer, St Paul) in fact present our body is to be part of the living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God which is our reasonable service; or do we "forsake the gathering of ourselves together" as the writer to the Hebrew puts it? For the fact is that the Church is now the living Body of Christ on Earth and every one of us is a member of that body, depending upon the other members for our well being and they in their turn on us.

That's why any talk about "living the good life apart from the Church" or there "being nothing in it for us" is so misleading. God, by making us part of the Body of Christ, confers upon each one of us a value in his sight which we could have acquired in no other way. It's our own incorporation or enfleshment into the Body of Christ which gives us a unique role in his purpose for the world

We become, so to speak, incarnate in the Body of Jesus Christ as he became incarnate on the first Christmas Day. So that when people say "There's nothing in the Church for me", they're completely failing to understand what sort of creation the Church of God is. It is not simply an organisation like a Club or a Society; it's a live organism like a human body which can't function properly if just one of its members is missing.

So the question they really should be asking is what shape is the hole that will be left in the body of Christ if I don't present myself, my soul and body, Sunday by Sunday with my fellow-members?"

And the answer, of course, is that it will leave a me-shaped a hole in the fabric and correspondingly weaken the whole structure, especially for those with whom we are most closely associated: our family, our parents, our friends, far and neighbours, our fellow-worshippers.

For the Incarnation gives everyone of us a unique value. From the moment Jesus Christ was born he gave all those received him the power to become sons of God. No longer are we people of little worth floating about on this Sea of Humanity but we have become persons of unimaginable worth, in the seamless garment, the Body of Christ on Earth.

Let me just read the whole of Isaac Watts poem

Joy to the world, the Lord is come; Let earth receive her King:

Let every heart prepare a him room, and Heaven and Nature sing.

Joy to the Earth, the Saviour reigns; let Men their Songs employ;

While Fields and Floods, Rocks, Hills and Trees repeat the sounding joy.

He rules the World with Truth and Grace and makes the Nation's prove

The glories of his righteousness, And Wonders of His Love.

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