“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John
Christmas has become a very sentimental holiday in recent years. A certain
kind of emotion identified as the Christmas spirit. This Christmas spirit
is compounded chiefly, I think, of a nostalgia for childhood, a longing
for happy family get-togethers, and a need to feel at least once a year
that all is well with the world.
I think, however, that our feverish efforts to whip up this Christmas
spirit artificially become more fruitless and unrewarding every year, for
seeking a Christmas spirit of this sort is bound to be a frustrating experience.
After all, we cannot ever quite entirely escape the unsettling fear that
the world is in chaos and the family in a state of collapse.
The Church corrects our sentimental tendencies by insisting upon the
true character of Christmas, for Christmas, according to the Church, is
primarily a spiritual holiday, in which we are bidden to contemplate the
marvel and miracle of the Incarnation of the Son of God. To be sure, many
pure and holy sentiments will flow from such contemplation, but we must
start with the difficult mental task of devout reflection upon the mystery
of the Word made flesh. And it is upon the path of such reflection that
I hope to start now.
I suspect that some stranger to Prayer Book worship would have been
quite surprised at the Epistle and Gospel which were read a few minutes
ago. He probably would have expected to hear the familiar Christmas
story from St. Luke. But instead we hear two difficult passages of
theological reflection on the nature of Jesus Christ. We are forced
to ask the question, ‘Who is Jesus Christ?,’ in a most profound and searching
Who, then, is Jesus Christ? Who is this babe born at Bethlehem
and laid in a manger? This is the question we are compelled to ask
by our Epistle and Gospel. In answering it, we shall correct all
our false and inadequate sentiments, and open the way to a true appreciation
of our Lord.
Now, the answer to our question is very simple and direct. . . and almost
unbearable, for it is practically unthinkable and accessible finally only
The answer is this: Jesus Christ is both God and man. Try for a moment
to contain that statement in your mind. This baby, the son of Mary, is
also the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy and Undivided Trinity!
Think of the implications of this statement. This swaddled babe
is the brightness of God’s glory. His newborn, precarious life isa the
life which is the light of men. His inarticulate cries express the
desires of him who upholds everything by the word of his power. His
helpless limbs are also the members of him by whom everything was made
that was made.
He is the Word made flesh, shining with God’s glory, equipped with his
power, and replete with his truth. . . this babe, Jesus Christ. I do not
think we can contain this reality, except by faith. In other words,
I do not think we can bear this truth unless we also happen to be in love
with it. For faith is a kind of knowledge certified by desire.
And yet, if we should have faith, if we should embrace this truth in
our minds with the loving arms of the will, then we shall be given power
to become the sons of God, for we shall be born again, “not of blood, nor
of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” And
it was precisely to this end that God sent his only-begotten Son into the
world, “that we might live through him.” (1 John 4.9)
Perhaps now you can see why I said that today’s Epistle and Gospel correct
all the false and inadequate sentiments of the season. I said this
because they propose life to us, abundant life, the life of God shared
with us by our incorporation into his Son. And surely the only alternative
to a dead life animated only by sentiment is the reality of the God-man
Jesus Christ and the new life he offers to those who will receive him.
So I ask you, please, make this Christmas a spiritual holiday.
Don’t be content for another year with the frustrating hell of a secular
Christmas. Instead, cradle Jesus in your minds with love. Make
your contemplation of the Christ child the centre of your holiday.
Then you will find that all shall be well with the world, “all shall be
well, all manner of thing shall be well.”