25th December 2020.
St John Chapter 1
Reflection by Andrew
And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us. It’s a wonder that almost stops the world in its tracks, and John Betjeman catches that sense of wonder in a poem:
And is it true, and is it true?
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?
And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,
No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.
And is it true? Is this wonder actually true? I find myself holding on to this and being awed by this and compelled by this, because we’re in a situation like none of us has faced before. The sweet and silly Christmas things, even the carolling are limited this year to say the least.
So with so much taken away from us – including things we really love and things that are important for us – I think we can only go deeper. This year we’ve been made aware of some truths that tend to stay beneath the surface, but we’re so conscious of them now. If this Christ-child is come as good news for the poor, how much more aware we are of poverty around us and poor people in our midst, and maybe even poverties of our own.
He’s born in a borrowed stable, he’ll soon be a refugee as his family flees to Egypt, and the first witnesses on the scene are, as Ross reminded us, smelly shepherds. This year, suddenly governments found the resolve to put homeless people in hotels, food banks are in the news every day and a twenty-three year-old footballer – from a family that’s known hunger – challenges those in power not to let any child go hungry.
These are the deep and abiding things that matter. God puts them centre stage by entering the world not in a palace, but in poverty. So, he slips in among the poor, he cries out for justice and he slips also into the poverty of your heart and mine. He allows us to admit that a lot of the time we’re not in control, that our fears and our loneliness and a sense that we’re not up to it, are our own essential and inescapable poverty.
But here’s the hope. The Word becomes flesh, not as some academic theological abstraction but as deep truth which gets fleshed out – unbelievable as it might seem – in you and me. By virtue of our creation and our baptism, by our turning to him, and his coming to us (and he’s doing that in every moment we draw breath) – whether we acknowledge him or not – he’s in us. Jesus says: We will make our home in you.
The homeless Christ-child, the Saviour of the world, the maker of the universe takes up lodging in your heart and in mine. An unshakeable truth to strengthen us no matter what’s happening around us. And possessing that truth and being possessed by it, and being disciples of a Christ who puts himself into the world so humbly, he asks us to put ourselves into the world in the very same way. So we bear his light into the world and we celebrate light wherever we find it.
And there’s been lots of light in darkness this year. This situation has shone a light on the hidden folks on whom we now know we depend, from nurses, carers, doctors, scientists to lorry-drivers and folks stacking shelves in supermarkets. We’ve seen them as people whose dedication has just shone for all of us. Captain Tom reminds us that you’re never too old to see a modest project turn into a dream that inspires a nation; Jo Wicks had families doing cross-generational gym sessions with so much fun and joy; and Marcus Rashford, like I said, has, in the best spirit of Mary’s Magnificat, put down the mighty from their seat and insisted that the hungry be fed. Oh yes, and a young Scot (from Edinburgh no less) won Bake-off and Strictly gave about nineteen million people a little bit of much-needed glitter.
God loves this world, all of it and his love, vast as the universe, encompasses everything, everyone.
Mother Julian of Norwich sums this up beautifully in a vision of a hazel nut in the palm of her hand. She wonders what it is, and she gets the answer:‘It is all that is made.’ She says: “I marvelled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it.”
God loves the world. And he’s never absent from the world and never absent from you. Betjeman asks: and is it true? And his answer is “Yes”, “For God was man in Palestine and lives today in bread and wine.” And he lives – and this is the wonder – in you. Amen.