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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Christmas Day, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
December 25, 2014

John 1:1-14

‘Whose word? Which word? How?’

The fourth evangelist reworks the opening chapter of Genesis, telling us that the creative Word of God became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. John’s poem presents the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as the Wisdom or Word of a God who speaks lovingly. It’s quite an image. God be with you

Attention is drawn to the goodness of flesh – the goodness and worthiness of bodies (texual, sexual, social, historical, ecological, mystical). Attention is drawn to the process of becoming – to risk, action, investment, growth, commitment, translation, transformation ... The Word becomes flesh. Attention is drawn also to vulnerability. This is how our God appears in the world. And more than that, this is the very nature and character of God – to be in the world, to risk engagement and embodiment. To be vulnerable. Not just once, but eternally.

As a statement opposing Gnosticism (any belief in salvation that entails a rejection of bodies or a movement away from the earth) John’s reworking of Genesis 1 is clear and compelling. Belief in Jesus as Saviour entails affirmation of the world in all its bodily aspects. Whatever we say of the Spirit, ultimately, will be in the best interests of the world. Whatever we say about ourselves will align with belief in the intrinsic goodness of creation, and the restoration of the divine image in and through historical struggles, physical and social, ecological and mystical processes.

God, we might say, is embodiment. God is humanisation. God is incarnation.

Which may be a little philosophical. It may, ironically, be too abstract.

So let’s start again. If you were asked to name one word that becomes flesh at Christmastime (at all times), which word would you nominate? Which word comes to mind, that, given expression in the life of Jesus, the story of Jesus and the church, elicits some kind of prayerful response – wonder, encouragement, admiration or imitation?

Our Advent candles present four possibilities. Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. In the flesh, we see how these nouns, ideals or principles are lived out. How does Jesus practise hope? How does Jesus enact peace? How does Jesus en-joy life with others in the world? How is the giving and receiving of love made possible in the conduct of Jesus and those who gather in the Spirit of his ministry?

Perhaps you’d nominate one of these words as a means of meditation today.

Exploring the Icon of the Nativity perhaps another word comes to mind. Family. Kinship. Communion. I think of these Trinitarian terms in light of Satan’s tormenting Joseph (bottom left corner): “This is not a holy scene. You are a fool to believe that God enters the world in such a way. Mary is no good.” In light of Joseph’s strength of character (Mary directs her loving gaze toward him). And in light of the magi, shepherds and midwives (bottom right), who, with the angels, the animals and the earth comprise a holy family.

Perhaps you’d nominate one of these words.

The name Jesus (or Yeshua/Joshua) means YHWH saves, or YHWH sets free. Is this the word, for you, that becomes flesh today? Salvation. Freedom. For me, there’s a lot to take in here. The story of Jesus is about a free kindness or grace that welcomes, encourages, heals, accompanies, challenges, offends, converts, surprises, soothes, sustains ... Freedom from tyranny, fear, conventions. Freedom of thought, movement, expression. Freedom for confession, innovation, relationship ... We are led to consider not simply how freedom is celebrated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but how we might celebrate it here, now.

In our own violent times, the good news is again the invitation to live out the wonder of the word that addresses us … the wonder of the word that encourages us to become more humane, more sensitive to the pain of others, more in tune with creative and healing forces, more at ease or at peace with difference, more open to joy and laughter (as Pope Francis said to the Cardinals), more focused on what can be done to improve accountability, to lift up the downtrodden, to share resources ... to transform hate into love.

The good news or gift is again the contemplation of the Nativity, liturgical innovation of St Francis of Assisi, whose faith re-released a sense of the holy in the simplest of settings. With the Christ child we contemplate the free kindness of God in and through the presence of creatures wild and domesticated. Freedom means freedom for all. Access for all. Respect for all. The Nativity teaches a cosmic harmony at odds with the madness of consumerism.

There’s a wonderful poem by American poet (and pediatrician) William Carlos Williams. It is called “The Gift”.

As the wise men of old brought gifts
   guided by a star
      to the humble birthplace

of the god of love,
   the devils
      as an old print shows
retreated in confusion.

What could a baby know
   of gold ornaments
or frankincense and myrrh,
   of priestly robes
      and devout genuflections?

But the imagination
   knows all stories
      before they are told
and knows the truth of this one
   past all defection.

The rich gifts
   so unsuitable for a child
      though devoutly proffered,
stood for all that love can bring.
   The men were old
     how could they know

of a mother’s needs
   or a child’s
      appetite?

But as they kneeled
   the child was fed.
      They saw it
and gave praise!
   A miracle

had taken place,
   hard gold to love,
a mother’s milk!
   before
     their wondering eyes.

The ass brayed
   the cattle lowed.
      It was their nature.

All men by their nature give praise.
   It is all
      they can do.

The very devils
   by their flight give praise.
      What is death,
beside this?
   Nothing. The wise men
      came with gifts

and bowed down
   to worship
      this perfection.

May the gifts we offer one another today stand for all that love can bring. May our gifts bear/embody hope, peace, joy, love, kinship, communion, freedom …

God bless you. God inspire the work of your heart, mind and hands. In the name of Jesus the Word made flesh. Amen.

The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams Volume II 1939-1962 (New Directions). With thanks to Cathie Harrison for inspiration.