Christmas 2009

Hebrews 1.1-4; John 1.1-14

“Something concrete…” – Sermon for Midnight Mass

My Godfather, Uncle Frank, is a retired vicar and now well into his 90s. Just three days ago it was the 70th anniversary of when he was ordained as a priest. My father was also a vicar and worked with Frank as part of a team serving several churches in Sheffield. When the team was talking together and the discussion was getting a bit abstract, Frank would say ‘What we need is something concrete to get our teeth into.’ My Dad would point out that the last thing you want to get you teeth into is some concrete! But even if it is something of a mixed metaphor, I think we all know what Frank was getting at.
When we talk it is all too easy for our words to get rather detached from reality. Indeed words are notorious for their slippery nature and we instinctively know that how a person uses words can reveal to us something of who they are. When we do not believe someone will fulfil their promises we say that they are ‘Just talk’; when someone is reliable then we say they are ‘as good as their word’. When someone seems to be promising more than they will ever actually do we demand that they ‘Put their money where their mouth is.’ And we all have heard the saying that ‘actions speak louder than words’.
In the Bible, in the Book of Genesis, the story of the very beginnings of all things is told. In the beginning, at the moment of Creation, God speaks. He says ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. Again God speaks ‘Let there be… sky… land… plants…
sun… moon… stars… and living creatures…’
and every time it was so.
God’s words are not just empty words; they are active words that bring reality into existence. God’s words are not just expressions of ideas; they make physical things take form. They do not just describe or name; God’s words are words that create. God’s words are not abstract; they are, as Frank would say, something concrete we can get our teeth into!
Christian faith is or should be concrete rather than abstract, because God’s words are never empty but active and creative. Our celebration of Christmas reminds us that the story of God is told not just in words but in flesh – the Word made Flesh who dwelt among us. The story of the birth of Jesus the Son of God the Father is the story of the way, truth and life of God being made flesh. No longer unknown, but made known; no longer abstract, but concrete; no longer beyond us, but with us. God in Jesus is no longer untouchable but cradled in a mother’s arms. God in Jesus is no longer distant but reaching out to touch, bless and heal all who will come to him. In Jesus God is, as it were, ‘putting his money where his mouth is’. In Jesus, God is speaking again his creative Word.
I am more and more convinced that we should see Christianity not a set of ideas to be believed in or to be disbelieved; not a system of beliefs to be assented to or rejected. Christianity is a way of life to be lived. Jesus, whose birth we celebrate tonight, grew up to become the man who called people not to believe in him but to follow him. Jesus Christ is a real person who lived a real fully human life of flesh, blood and bone, pain, suffering and death, joy, laughter and love. Jesus whose birth we celebrate this night is God made human, love made known and life given anew in all its fullness.
Tonight as we celebrate that birth; that love revealed; that new life freely offered, what should our own word be? May our own word of be a response of ‘Yes’ to God. May God grant us the grace to receive what he gives; and so to become the people he has created and saved us to be. And may our own actions of love, forgiveness, hospitality, generosity and justice speak loudly to our world of the reality of God’s creative Word made Flesh living amongst us.