GOD'S GLORY IS SPOKEN
Sermon delivered on Christmas Day the 25th December 2015 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes at St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.
Scriptures: Isaiah 52:7-10 Hebrews 1: 1-12 S. John 1:1-14
Hebrews 1:2 “In these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things.”
All my three children now have one child born on or near Christmas Day, the most recent one of these making her appearance just last week. Having a baby arrive in the family in ordinary circumstances is a classically disruptive event. All the family parameters must be changed to adjust to the new presence with its unignorable demands. The family is changed for ever, dying to its old form of no children or having children of a particular age, and rising anew as a new grouping.
NEW BABIES DEMAND CHANGES
The world too was never the same again when Jesus was born. The changes were not exactly like those demanded of a family with a new baby, in that the world is not itself a family, and for the most part is not conscious of any family responsibilities towards a new baby. In some ways it is a pity today too that mothers about to give birth go off to hospitals and have their babies there, rather than, as was the case when I was born, giving birth in their own homes. As when dying takes place in a hospital or other institution, the privileges and responsibilities arising for the family from these most intimate and significant events can be diminished, if it becomes easier for the family to be inattentive or uncaring. While a modern hospital delivery is usually the safest, convenience may win the day over meaningfulness, and that should not be the case.
THIS BABY'S UNIQUE DEMANDS
For the Christmas Birth, however, the circumstances were far from ordinary. In the Lord Jesus' case the world as expressed by state authority had pushed His Mother and Joseph out of their home and propelled them into a situation symbolised by the manger scene. New-born Jesus was not tucked into a cot in a nice brightly decorated and clean nursery or equivalent. Yet the family focus was very much there. The Holy Family would certainly never be the same again. When the coming birth had been announced to Mary by the angel, she knew from then that her whole life was going to be shaped around this person to be first carried by her and then given birth to. Her life would be changed far beyond the way other mothers must change their lives. Her baby was uniquely special. She was to be the God-bearer, the "Theotokos". Her Baby would have His unique demands to make upon her, because He was the Son of God.
ADJUSTING TO THE PRESENCE
In a wider circle all around the Holy Family the world in spite of itself and its unfeeling rulings about where that family and others had to go, was changing. Unbeknown to most of it, it was beginning to adjust to the new Presence within it, the Presence of its true but unrecognised Lord: the Presence within it, indeed, of the One who bears all things by the word of His power, as our text from the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it. St. Luke's Gospel tells us of the angels' message to the shepherds, who then came specially to Bethlehem to see this Baby. St. Matthew's Gospel tells us of the visit of Wise Men from a far country to worship this small child. St. John's Gospel tells us that the True Light, from which all true enlightenment is derived, had come into the world. The Word of God that had spoken the creation was now lodged within His handiwork - the author of the play was now a direct participant of the drama. So that handiwork could never be the same again. "He came to His own home, and His own people received Him not. But to all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."
THE CALL TO ACCOMMODATE
The Risen Jesus told St. Paul when he was in rebellion against Him - when he was "receiving Him not", as S. John might phrase it - that it was hard for him to kick against the spikes. In today's world we consider that whether we receive Jesus as our Lord or whether we don't is a matter of our own choice. We might express this by saying that we have a right to choose our belief or religion. Children may be told at school that nobody has the right to force them into a set of beliefs. While this is undoubtedly true, what is often not said is that there are certain consequences of choosing or rejecting a set of beliefs. Certainly we may choose to love Jesus or to try to ignore Him, but - let us be aware that either way we will be affected. No jealous brother trying to ignore his new baby brother is unaffected by that presence. The elder brother may choose to imagine his family the way it was, but he cannot re-make his family the way it was no matter how hard he tries. Even for the reluctant elder sibling, there is only one way to go for peace. So for some, like the great CS Lewis at first, submission to Jesus Christ may be a reluctant necessity, because now that He has come into His world there is no peace for them here otherwise. But in fact He offers more. For all, He offers not just peace but Redemption. He who was made to be a baby is the radiance of God's glory and the express image of His person. We joyfully submit to that radiance, whether in the bliss of the manger, in the shockingness of the love that required crucifixion, or in the majesty of enthronement at the right hand of Power. Let us therefore perceive ourselves as family to Him, let us practice the art of being family to Him, and let all regions of our life be accommodated to God's glory who has spoken to us definitively by His Son!
For, "In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."