25. December 2017

A Vision of Glory

Service Type:

‘…And the Word became Flesh…’ (John 1 ,14)

Eight days ago, after our Festival of nine lessons & carols I was ‘taken to task’ by someone. (I don’t mind being criticised, as it gives me the opportunity to point out to my critics just where they are wrong, because I am always right!). It was concerning an article I’ve written in the latest Church Magazine – copies of which are available – free of charge - suggesting that it was directed in a way that could be taken personally by many readers. My argument, in a nutshell, was that the church has allowed secular society to rebrand Christmas on its own terms even to the extent that it has redefined the basis upon which people attend church @ Christmastide…The offending paragraph was this, Usually @Midnight on Christmas Eve, preferably in a semi-drunken stupor, or else tag along to the 11am family service on Christmas Day where you can be sure the minister will be on top form; lots of laughs, a few favourite carols, and a gentle reminder to be nice to one another if only for the day…’ Well, sometimes one’s rhetoric does runaway from oneself, but having reread the paragraph I stick by every word. The Church needs to reclaim Christmas for itself by finding the courage to restate what is at the heart of the Christmas Story, to rekindle in the hearts and minds of those who are prepared to listen, a Vision of Glory, akin to the word picture so vividly painted for us in the 1st Chapter of John’s Gospel. I have always been struck by these words of CS Lewis, which sum up for me all that I am trying to say.…

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” (C.S. Lewis: ‘Mere Christianity’).

With the greatest respect to all of us, if we wish to take seriously the Christmas story, we have to do so in accordance with how it describes itself. The incarnation is all to do with the Eternal Son of God taking on human form; it is not a literary device, whether Divinely inspired or not, used in order to persuade us to live our lives in a particular way, a way of gathering up a collection of pious platitudes and wrapping them around a tale of daring-do such that they might have an immediate appeal to each and all of us alike. But as with any morality tale, it soon finds itself falling short

’Without the incarnation, Christianity isn't even a very good story, and most sadly, it means nothing. "Be nice to one another" is not a message that can give my life meaning, assure me of love beyond brokenness, and break open the dark doors of death with the key of hope.’ (Michael Spencer: ‘Mere Churchianity, ‘Finding your way back to Jesus-shaped Spirituality’).

And so, the invitation to each of us this Christmas is to approach it from a different direction; to have a sense of Christmas as understood from God’s point of view. Why would God bother? Surely God’s intention was and is altogether more profound, more significant, more all embracing than merely to remind us to be good to each other.

“The incarnation took all that properly belongs to our humanity and delivered it back to us, redeemed. All of our inclinations and appetites and capacities and yearnings are purified and gathered up and glorified by Christ. He did not come to thin out human life; He came to set it free. All the dancing and feasting and processing and singing and building and sculpting and baking and merrymaking that belong to us, and that were stolen away into the service of false gods, are returned to us in the gospel.” (Thomas Howard).

Now I’m not sure about building and sculpting, but I’ve no doubt that for all of us today there will be varying degrees of dancing and feasting, singing, baking and merrymaking – to say nothing of eating and drinking – and we do it knowing that God is approving of it, we do it because that is what Christmas really does mean to God, it was God designed Christmas to be. The stable behind the Inn @ Bethlehem all those years ago, I have no doubt was filled with people doing exactly the same; who could resist celebrating the birth of a baby, whoever that baby might have been. But remember this, Christmas isn’t over when the last person leaves, when the last carol has been sung, when the last mince pie has been eaten, when the last drink has been drunk. We may think its all over, but for God, its just beginning. The Vision of Glory that lit up the night sky all those years ago is radiating down the years and we, even we, can glimpse something of that same glory, if only we are prepared to open our eyes to see it. The article that caused offence was a targeted response at the admen…and yes the John Lewis advert never fails to send a shiver down one’s spine, but if anyone thinks I am prepared to laugh off the blasphemy that sees Jesus supplanted by a sausage roll; no I’m not…The incarnation is its own advertisement – The Word became Flesh and Dwelt Among us.’