And the word became flesh and lived among us

As Christians we are story tellers, shaped by the stories of Jesus and the stories He shared. Today we tell the greatest story ever told, the moment where the Son of God was born from a Virgin in an old stable surrounded by shepherds, animals, and angels. We know the story well. We see children sing and perform it every year. St Francis of Assisi is attributed with the first ever play of the nativity when he celebrated Christmas at Greccio in 1223. Acting out and telling the story of Jesus’ birth is our testimony of God’s amazing and beautiful love for us.

When we tell stories of Jesus. We are messengers of the divine dance between God and His people, we deliver the message all around dancing on beautiful feet as described by Isaiah in our first reading. We bring a message of peace, of hope, of good news, of salvation. We sing for joy. We lift up our voices because the Lord has comforted His people, for God so loved the world that he gave us His only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

You see, Jesus, the incarnation, always was the plan. In the Gospel reading today we see and feel a similar structure to the beginning of creation in Genesis 1. They both begin with the phrase “in the beginning”. Jesus, God’s grace is not an add-on, but the very shape of the universe from the start. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being. And the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory as of a Father’s Son, full of grace and truth.

A theologian called John Duns Scotus says that Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity, Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. You see God already knew that He loved His children dearly, for God so loved the world He sent His only begotten Son.

Jesus came to lead us back into a participation in that love. To show us the way to walk in our lives that would reconcile, that would bring us back into a relationship with Him, a relationship that we walked away from in the beginning in the garden of Eden, where our own ego became our Lord.

The incarnation, where God lived among us, is a divine participation between God and His creation. Jesus is not a bit human and a bit of God, He is fully God and fully human. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born from Mary. A wholeness of holiness. This story of divine participation is not a solo journey, one cannot by Holy by oneself, we have to be whole, a whole community, like the gathering of people in the stable.

The shepherds were told to participate in this Holy moment by the angels, the wise men were also asked to join. The animals in the stable themselves witnesses of God’s creation being in witness to God’s presence in the hay that He made himself, that He felt on His fragile newborn skin.

On this Christmas Day we remember that we are here to participate in the nativity story, we are gathered here to be the community crammed and squashed into that stable where love came down to meet us face to face.

In the season where we rush around buying gifts to show each other our love, we need to remember that we do not need to, or even think that we have to buy our way into being able to see Jesus. All we need to do is what is happening to all of us today, to participate in the glorious story of the nativity. There are no tickets for the best seats, because in God’s eyes we are all in the best seats to witness His glory and to experience His love.

His love for each and every one of us is not dependent on VIP access, all it is dependent on is us being able to dare to believe that this love, this Holy and relentless love is here right now. We are not sat outside the gates of paradise, we are not excluded by guards of our own making. All we have to do is to accept and believe that God loves us and He yearns for us to walk up to the side of the crib and breathe in the newness of life that is provided by Him. He beckons us to smile into His wide open eyes, to swoon over His tiny hands and feet, to realise that that feeling deep inside us, that feeling of deep peace and explicable joy is Him in us and us in Him.

This is why the nativity story is so important and so relevant today. It is the moment where we as humans become entwined in the history of God’s story. It is where the cosmic being of God who causes the mountains to melt and the waters to part, weeps when He is sad, mourns when His friend dies, suffers in the hands of humans, shouts out when He is in pain, cries as a babe in the arms of His mother. He came down to participate in our lives. And in this very story, on this Christmas Day we do the same. We participate and then like John go out and testify, to share our story of our encounter with Jesus.

By going deep in any one place, we will meet all places. When we go deep into the nativity story, we meet the very essence of God, we’re invited into the heart of God, this is how God works; this is how God is. The entire system of the universe is revealed in the beautiful form of a baby. We meet Him with no boundaries, no splendour. Just you, me, and Jesus, asleep in the hay.

This is Good news. Very Good news.

On this Christmas Day I pray that we continue in the divine dance of participation, that we may walk a little lighter in this Christmas season knowing how much all of us are so deeply loved. And if that feels challenging, or something that you have not considered before, take those first steps towards the crib today and gaze at the glory of relentless love.

To all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gives power to become children of God.

Amen.

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The refiner’s fire

My Nan always had a large stock of fine jewellery. When I was a little girl I would sneak into her room, quietly and slowly open up her jewellery draw, and gaze upon the glistening items inside. It was like looking at a draw of glass sweets, different colours catching the light, set in different precious metals. She used to catch me every time wandering around the room with three necklaces on, five rings on each hand, and big dangly earrings, sometimes I’d even have on a pair of her shoes. I didn’t really like dressing up, I just like pretending to be her. She had a long relationship with jewellery. Her mother had a huge stash and when she died I remember sitting in the upstairs room of a jewellers as she sold the lot. For my Nan jewellery wasn’t just something to wear, it was something to fall back on in times of need.

Sometimes life feels like it couldn’t get much harder. That every turn produces another problem, another issue. We often think can we withstand anymore? What more could happen? As Christians we here about other Christians being persecuted around the world, we see churches being closed and different management schemes put in place to keep us going. But surely we have a breaking point! Does God hear us when we call out?

On the second Sunday of Advent we think about the prophets. The voices in the bible from people who’s calling from God is to exclaim the passion of God. Their voice cry out vocalising the pain and the strain of God’s people, but also speak what is in the heart of God.

In the advent story we hear the heart of God through the words of John the Baptist crying out for God’s people to prepare the way for the Lord. This process to prepare for the Lord’s coming is shaped by God and described by the prophet Malachi as like a refiner’s fire.

Now growing up around a women who loved precious metals I took an interest in how they were made. The process of refining silver so it is of the correct standard to make jewellery is called cupellation. Basically the silver is placed in a cuple (a flat, porous dish, probably made from clay in biblical times) then heated to a high temperature that enables the impurities like lead, copper, and tin to be vaporised, or absorbed into the cuple, and skimmed off the surface of the molten silver.

God’s preparation for the coming of His son is described by Malachi as the refiner’s fire, that He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. This means that being a Christian and walking along the journey with God refining us as we go is tough! We are heated to become more malleable, and things of us evaporate, yet every time we come through challenging times stronger and shinier.

Because silver is shiny and it reflects the beautiful light that catches it. And that is our role as prophets in the modern word. We shine like the purified silver, allowing the words of God, the working of Him in our lives to shine His light around the world.

Being a prophet means speaking up and speaking out, speaking truth to power, challenging situations where you see things are wrong, speaking up for those who have no voice who God calls us to protect and build up. We speak this truth of God as we proclaim the story of Jesus’ birth against a Black Friday narrative where shopping and gifts and greed try to frame the Christmas we know and love.

We shine like purified silver in the light of our Lord, but our refining process is not over, God is always transforming and working us into something beautiful. And that is what He did in bringing His Son to us, when love came down in astonishing beauty – foretold and proclaimed by the prophets – and we carry on this tradition today, proclaiming the coming of the Lord, preparing that way, and reflecting His love in everything we do.

We are my Nan’s jewellery draw, we shine out and draw in others to see what it is like to be us, to be Christians, to radiate the light of God’s love.

May this advent be a time where our love for our Lord may overflow more and more, that in times of trouble and stress we stand in confidence that in the refiner’s fire shapes and moulds our hearts into something beautiful, aflame with love for the Christ child, making us stronger and shinier in the face of the world.

Prepare the way of the lord, he is coming soon!

Amen