The Word Made Flesh Among Us

December 24, 2018

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Preached by Canon Roly Riem using John 1.1-14, at Midnight Mass on Monday 24th December 2018, Christmas Eve.

There’s more to our Christmas Market than shopping. Had you been in the British Crafts area this year, you would have found two chalets, one housing a Nativity Scene, and its neighbour, a chalet designed and staffed by Churches Together in Winchester. Its aim was to help visitors reflect awhile on the value of Christmas.

This year people were invited to write a word or two on a small luminous star, to sum up what they wanted more of this Christmas, and to stick these stars onto paper sheets attached to the open chalet doors. Unfortunately, the design was not entirely wind- and rain-proof, so my first encounter with these stars was in picking piles of them off the wet grass, along with the shredded and sodden sheets to which some of them were still attached. I collected over 700, which I took away to pray with, as we’d promised our visitors we would.

What did people want more of? you may wonder. Among desirable festive indulgences were toffee and meat, happily not together. Someone was praying fervently for a new vicar – a bit tough on the present one perhaps; and there were lots of big hopes: for health and happiness; peace and joy; and very top of the list, love. Love was wanted more universally than anything else this Christmas.

People wanted love to spread across the world, bringing greater kindness, tolerance, understanding and harmony; but love was especially desired in the form of particular beloved persons. The roll of honour included Rufus, Marg, Caitlin, Elliott, Owen, Matt, Jessica and Freya, not to mention mum and dad, grandma and grandpa. We may well want love to be spread abroad at Christmas, but we really only revel in it when we meet love in the flesh.

St John agrees. At the start of his Gospel he says, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”. He’s offering us exactly what we wish for: love brought to us by one beloved person – Jesus, God’s only Son –  a person whose mission it was to spread love across the whole world, by dwelling among us, healing, teaching and liberating, opening the way to fullness of life.

The world we leave behind at the end of 2108 is uncertain. And we simply don’t know how things will turn out in 2019. The landscape, as far as we can see it, is wreathed in shadow. But John’s gospel is reminding us that there’s is always a flame to hand, the flame of divine love, which can be set against even our greatest challenges.

This is the message of Christmas: God didn’t wave a magic wand over the world when he came in the person of Jesus, but in Him he set a flame of love in the darkness. Right from his birth, Jesus’s flesh was scantily protected from the world’s strife and sorrow, and yet in all his trials he held fast to love, till the day he laid down his life for his friends, entirely out of love.

But how can this flame of love now be set against the great challenges we face, like the 14 million people in our country living below the poverty line, 4 million of which are children? One answer to that, as many will know, is by writing an ode to sausage rolls.

This year’s Christmas No 1 is the extremely silly, We Built This City on Sausage Rolls, with epic lyrics such as, ‘If you’ve never had one and don’t recognise the taste, it’s a cylindrical bit of pork wrapped in a puff pastry case’.

While this tradition of comic pop songs stretches back to ‘Ernie the Fastest Milkman in the West’, via Mr Blobby and Bob the Builder, I think that this one hits the mark because it’s all about love – love for the great British sausage roll, certainly, but mainly about the love shared in video performance by the Hoyles – a young family of four from Nottingham, with their blogger dad, alias Ladbaby – with its wacky mixture of banter and breastfeeding, available on YouTube if you want five minutes of merriment and joy.

The love celebrated in this song is even bigger than this happy family’s: all the profits from sales are going to the Trussell Trust, whose network of over 400 foodbanks is precisely there for those many millions living in poverty. Do you see now how this flame of love can spread?

Love invites imagination, enables empathy and inspires creative change. Love undermines our sense of powerlessness in the face of uncertainty and says, “You know what, I’ll do what I can, and a bit more for the sake of love’. And I believe that Christ-like love can even overcome entrenched divisions and build new community and nationhood.

That’s why St John says: To as many as received Jesus Christ – God’s love sent in person – he gave them the right, or the power, to become children of God – those with the capacity to fan the flame of God’s love among others, despite the encircling gloom, because they themselves had been set aflame with God’s love.

Those stars plucked from the wet grass are a testimony to the difference we can each make. People want more of the love that only beloved persons can give, as we are renewed in Christ, opened up in love, made full of the good cheer of knowing that we are lovable and loved by God.

So this Christmas, believe in the way of Christ: grab the chance of pushing back the darkness with the flame of love, and of being sausage-roll stuffed-full with love.