From The Revd Will Bissett
The Gospel reading for Christmas Eve from John 1 is one of the most profound readings in scripture; it gives us insight into what Christmas is really about, and into what God is really doing at Christmas. It’s such an incredibly rich passage that we could preach on it for months and not do it justice!
It’s a rich, powerful, revelatory, deeply theological, profound and poetic passage!
It begins with a statement that takes us right back to the start of the Bible; In the Beginning. Gen 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”.
In John 1 we have “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made…”
But what does it mean? Well it tells us that Jesus is eternal with God. It asserts Jesus oneness with God, and it expresses that God’s actions in creation were breathed through Jesus.
For those of you interested in the linguistics or theology, the Greek word used is ‘Logos’, which doesn’t just mean ‘Word’. It had powerful connotations in both Jewish and Greek thought. When the Greek Old Testament was read in synagogues ‘Logos’ or ‘Word of God’ was often used as a replacement for the divine name Jehovah which was thought too holy to use. In Greek thought, Logos was a shaping and directing principle, the divine logic implicit in the cosmos. So John uses language that would be familiar to his readers, but also expands the meaning of logos significantly; ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ John 1:14.
In simple terms, John 1 tells us who Jesus is:
Jesus is eternal
Jesus is with God
Jesus is God
Jesus is creative
Jesus became one of us
Jesus is God with us
John 1 proclaims Jesus’ eternity with God, His oneness with God, as well as the fact that Jesus came among us.
John 1 makes an interesting and complimentary contrast to the nativity story that so many of us know so well from Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels. Stories that we – and our culture – are in the habit of domesticating and diluting, often reducing them to some cute cuddly animals, a baby in a manger, and some great presents from some wise men. Of course, the accounts in Matthew and Luke are much more than that, and they affirm Jesus as The Messiah, God with us, but sometimes that gets conveniently forgotten or written out of the story, along with the reality and discomfort of the story of Jesus coming among us.. the discomfort of a pregnant teenager, discomfort of Joseph finding his fiancé pregnant, discomfort of the couple travelling several days to Bethlehem, discomfort of giving birth in a place where animals were stabled, discomfort of fleeing from the murderous King Herod.
Matthew and Luke remind us that Jesus arrival on earth was very human and very disruptive. John 1 reminds us that Jesus is God incarnate… reminds us that Jesus came from God, from the throne of glory – it doesn’t let us get away with domesticating, diluting and denuding Jesus of his divinity.
So, we might say that Matthew and Luke record the very human story, whilst affirming Jesus divinity. Whereas John records a very divine story, whilst affirming Jesus’ humanity.
These passages are complimentary, and I commend them to you – read them together, side by side, because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, and they help us to comprehend that which we may struggle with; the reality of Christmas, and the incredible message of Christmas: God with us. God with us? Really? In the 21st century do we believe that? Yes, I do!
At this point I want to address the question of miracles. Today they are often scoffed at; and some of us might even struggle privately with them. There is a contemporary intellectual & cultural arrogance that says ‘miracles don’t happen… the virgin birth couldn’t happen because miracles don’t happen’, or ‘such and such an account is the product of a primitive mindset’, or ‘Even if God exists why would he come to us?’.
Well I have two things to say to that; firstly, people at the time of Jesus didn’t see miracles around every corner. For example, they knew babies didn’t just pop up out of nowhere – any suggestion of a man not being involved would be treated deeply, deeply suspiciously.
Secondly, I’ve studied theology & philosophy long enough and heard many human explanations for the Bible’s miracles; from the plagues, to crossing the Red Sea, the virgin birth of Jesus and even Jesus’ miracles and resurrection. I’ve wrestled with them and these human explanations are not convincing for a whole lot of reasons!
Actually, there is a 21st century imperialism in the view that miracles don’t happen, that ‘We know better’. This view assumes that the Jews were simple, uneducated people. But the Jews did not expect miracles every day. Many of them lived and died without any miracles. There are vast swathes of the Bible with no miracles mentioned, and even longer gaps where nothing is recorded – perhaps because nothing of significance happened. But there were events that defined and shaped the nation of Israel. There were events that defined, shaped and birthed the early church. The birth story of Jesus was recorded precisely because it was not an everyday event. Miracles were not an everyday event! They are a sign of God’s providence and intervention. And this intervention is no more profound than the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.
Let me give you a different perspective on miracles...if you struggle with Miracles then your view of God is too small.. this is the trap of many....we make God in our image and give Him our limitations.
If you can't conceive of miracles then it’s a serious challenge to your theology!
If your God can’t do miracles then I don’t believe in him either – because my God can do miracles.
So when you go home tonight, or when you wake up in the morning, re-read John 1, re-read the reality of God coming among us.
The wonder of Christmas is not a story about a baby in a manger surrounded by some cute and cuddly animals.
It’s the story of God with us. God among us. God came to us as one of us to draw us back to Himself. He could have chosen any point in time, but he chose 2,000 years ago. God loves us so much that Jesus left eternity for us. He loves us so much he was born into poverty as one of us. He loves us so much that he lived as one of us, through ups and downs, joys and disappointments and grief. He loves us so much He died for you and for me.
Yes a baby was born, but a baby who is the Light of the World, a baby who carried within him God’s Hope and God’s rescue plan for us; a baby who carried God’s plan of reconciliation with us.
The king of kings, the Lord of Lords, the light of the world, the way, the truth and the life, our rock and our salvation. Our healer, our rescuer. He forgave sinners then and He forgives us now. He delivered and healed then, and He delivers and heals now. He welcomes, He restores, He renews, He blesses. Do you know him? If you don’t, then take up His invitation this Christmas and discover who He really is.
We worship God because He is the Creator who came among us, into our discomfort, to show us His Way, to demonstrate His love, even in the midst of any pain, and to overcome the power of death, judgment and separation from God for us. We worship God because God wins.
This baby in the manger that we celebrate; He’s your Saviour. He’s my Saviour, He’s my God, He’s my King. This is what we celebrate today. This is why we worship.
Glory to God!
Thanks be to God!
Remembrance Day Sermon
From The Revd Will Bissett
The 11th of November 2018 – 100 years since the end of the First World War, 100 years since the guns fell silent, 100 years since the end of what H G Wells popularly coined ‘The War to end all Wars’.
100 years later it is difficult for us to recapture the sense of relief and even jubilation that so many felt when the armistice was declared, but also the sense of destruction and waste. Because the First World War caused devastation, death and destruction on a scale never seen before. Over 15 million people were killed and 20 million injured. Countries from around the world were involved in that war. Here, in the UK, hardly a family was untouched by the war; nearly everyone knew someone who had been killed or injured. On 11 November 1918 many felt a deep sense of relief that the war was over, and they celebrated the end of that terrible war. But in time that sense of relief and celebration gave way to remembering those who had died, those who had given their lives in the service of their country, and in the cause of freedom.
On the memorial outside are the names of 158 people from our village who have died as a result of war between the First World War and today. Each one represents a person, someone who was a son or daughter, maybe even a husband or wife or a father or mother. Each single number represents a person, someone who lived and was loved. Someone who had hopes and dreams, Someone just like you or me.
Who lives or has lived on Armstrong Road? 4 men from Armstrong Road died in WWI: Percy Connelly, Ernest Field, Harold Freeman, Henry Mulholland
Ellen Hall recounted - I remember lying in bed listening to Percy Connolly playing his mouth organ on his way home along Armstrong Road. I thought the music beautiful. As soon as he was 18 Percy joined the navy. He was lost at sea.
St Jude’s Road? – 4 men were from families who lived on St Jude’s Road; William Browne, Walter Cook, William Fletcher; Harold French
Alexandra Road? – 9 men
Bond Street? – 10 men who died were from families in Bond Street – 3 brothers from the Collins family
There are many more – the numbers get bigger and start to dissolve into ‘statistics’. But my point is that each one was an individual who lost their life as a result of the war. Each of them is a person who lived, each a person who was created in the image of God, and whose life was cruelly cut short by war.
Today, we remember them with respect and thanks; we remember those who have died defending our country, defending our freedom. Some of us here remember people we knew, people we served with and who died, and we give thanks for them.
.. and so we remember, and many of us wear a poppy as a symbol of remembrance. The reason for that is that in the battle scarred landscape, where everything had been blown to bits, nothing seemed to grow – except the poppy. In amongst the destruction, the poppy was a sign of regeneration and new life.
We remember because it’s right to remember, it honours those who gave their lives. We remember because war should never be entered into lightly; the cost always needs considered. Sadly, the war to end all wars didn’t; there have been many wars since the Armistice 100 years ago; The Second World War, Korean War, Falklands War, Gulf Wars I and II, and Afghanistan, to name just a few. Human nature, ego and ambition, cruelty and oppression seem to make war an all-too regular occurrence in our history.
Whilst it is right to remember, if all we do is remember and contemplate on the fact that the war to end all wars, didn’t, then it may seem sad, or even hopeless, and this service would be nothing more than a national funeral memorial service.
But there is another symbol of regeneration and new life and one that, with all respect, is far more powerful than the poppy. The cross – this symbolises Jesus Christ crucified and died for you and for me, whose death overcame the power of sin, and evil and death. Jesus Christ, crucified…. but also resurrected by the power of the Living God. This regeneration has eternal meaning, eternal power and eternal effects. The cross, although originally a symbol of execution, represents God’s overcoming of sin, of hopelessness, of the power of death and destruction.
This means that selfishness, war, cruelty and death do not have the last word. What Jesus accomplished on the cross at one point in time is for all time, and for anyone who responds to his invitation. It’s an invitation to a new of being, a new way of seeing the world, an invitation to the Way of God.
Our reading from Matthew 5 earlier, might seem a strange one to us on Remembrance Sunday; Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, Blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are the peacemakers…. Yes, it is strange. It is strange by the values of our world, but these are not the values of our world; these are the values of God. The reading we heard earlier is a counter-cultural proclamation of what God is really about. It’s about a different realm, a different reign, a different reality, a different culture. Jesus proclaims the Way of God, Jesus proclaims God’s hope, God’s eternity, God’s salvation to each one of us. Jesus Christ is The Way, the Truth and The Life.
Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, Jesus Christ is our Hope and our Salvation. And if you do not know that hope I commend him to you. Perhaps this Christmas is a time to discover or rediscover what it really meant when God came among us, as one of us, as Jesus.
The poppy represents remembering the sacrifice that many made in war.
The Cross represents the sacrifice that God made once and for all to overcome the effects of evil and death.
Today, we remember, with thanks those who have served and sacrificed.
But we remember with hope, there is another way, a better way, there is hope, there is light. In Jesus we have that hope, eternal hope, that flows from the very presence and heart of our Eternal God and Creator.