This is a Christmas like no other and I welcome you with great joy to celebrate together the birth of Christ during this time of turmoil and uncertainty.
Just like all of you, I am regularly hearing stories of how the world pandemic has turned people’s lives upside down, and for their families and how their plans and lives now bear no resemblance to what had been imagined this time last year. Can you even remember that far back?
In our preparations for Christmas we even considered how we might offer Christmas services if the lockdown reached through into Western Australia again, as it did just before Easter when everything was shut down overnight because of Covid-19 spreading in the community.
Our lives have been changed beyond measure.
John’s Gospel and its opening verses, (1:1-14) which is the Gospel text for Christmas Day, have the potential to do the same for each of us all over again, if you allow these beautiful words to disturb your peace and you are able to listen into their meaning.
If you hear and experience God in this place, in church or in this beautiful location of Dunsborough, in this Gospel writing and in the midst of this chaotic world, the changes caused by Covid will be as nothing compared to the joy and hope that will start to dance in your hearts as we see beyond the pain and sadness and uncertainty now. Instead, we can step into being a beloved child of God, celebrating the birth of God’s son and celebrating the presence of one another as we come together this morning on this joyful day.
I remember when I was very small, I hated the dark. My parents had to leave a light on in the corridor outside the bedroom I shared with my sisters as I hated being in the dark. My panic when I woke up and could not see anything would climb like a rocket until light appeared.
Now you’ll be glad to know I don’t do the same these days for which my husband is very grateful; but do you know, the quality of the darkness I see has changed, as has the light. Let me repeat the words for you again:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
John’s Gospel takes us back to the very beginning of the universe, before time, before the world, before the cosmos emerged, when there was only God. Everything came into existence and was created through God speaking it into being. God created life and all things.
John’s opening words of his Gospel repeats and reminds us all of the Genesis story of creation, where God’s first action is to speak light into darkness, separating it out, and reassuring creation as the light was good.
We are also being reminded God’s loving intentions for each us were there before time and before the world. God had plans for each of us as part of God’s creation before we were born, out of time, when only God knew us.
For you have created my inward parts: you knit me together in my mother’s womb. You knew my soul, and my bones were not hidden from you: when I was formed in secret and woven in the depths of the earth. Psalm 139:12, 14
Christ is present before creation. Jesus is the Word spoken and speaking into creation before time, now and in the future. In God’s birthing Jesus into the world through Mary which we celebrate each Christmas, God is once again recreating the world out of love for us, to show us the way because we have lost our path.
I am so grateful God’s presence is profoundly faithful, persistent and insistent in our lives, whether you choose to see God or not. God is in the world and loves creation, and you and I are included.
Perhaps the true power of our Christian faith is grounded in this simple statement which comforts us when so much seem uncertain:
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:5)
The small child I once was, is very grateful for this reassurance.
It also means this Christmas, we can have the courage to pause and think about all those who are struggling and who are at home in lockdown, separated from families and friends, those with relatives falling ill and dying; those around the world who have lost jobs and businesses and homes; all of us who recognise there is no certainty about the future, as our futures have just taken another scary step with yet more change and over which we have little control.
John reminds us:
He was in the world and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. (John 1:10-11)
Jesus’s experience of the world as he was the Word made flesh, reassures us he has been here before us and our struggles are his struggles, and our lives today with all the changes and concerns are shared by Christ. He knows each of us and our darkness.
However, as we think about God’s presence here with us today, in this place, God is asking each of us to be God bearers to one another, having hope, peace, joy and love in our hearts and sharing it with those around us as our Christmas gift in Jesus’ name.
As you share your presents today, I hope you can remember it is Christ, the Word who spoke you into being whom you are sharing as well as whatever gifts you share.
The opening verses of John’s gospel are about new beginnings. New beginnings may seem hard and challenging and exhausting when everything is different, but it is not so for God. We are celebrating the beginning of new life with Jesus, the baby and for the world. However, this time, it is new life that cannot be spoiled, trashed or ruined in whatever way we have imagined or experienced, as God continues to sing the world into being in creation. God continues to sing us into new life in God.
Let us hear what God is trying to do for us as God invites us to join in this creation work, in this birthing work, in this sharing of God’s love with one another.
The way to live well and flourish in times of sadness and hopelessness, is to help others to live; the way to fulfill yourself is to spend yourself with others rather than focusing simply on yourself and your needs. I realise this is completely counter cultural to the way the world is going at the moment, but a ‘me, me, me,’ world goes nowhere except into sadness and despair.
Our griefs at the moment reflect our realisation the things we valued now seem hollow as we discover our true joy comes from strong relationships, our encounters with others and loving others. Rather than despairing about the way everything is going, the joy-filled news God is offering a different way of living in God’s world today with the birth of God’s Son is transformational and life-giving.
God has pulled light out of the darkness, God has created the world out of chaos and darkness and turned it into light, and we too are being pulled into the light out of darkness. And the darkness has not and will not overcome it! And a final thought
To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
Make no mistake my friends, this is a time and the day to celebrate, to see God is present among us as Jesus became flesh and lived among us. Jesus is present today and in this Christmas time. May our celebration of his birth be a reminder of our celebration of God’s love, as the light shining in the darkness, a light in which you can hope and trust.
The Lord be with you.