The Gospel of John and The Secret of Christmas
January 4, 2018
Some commentators have observed that the Roman Catholic Church in its spirituality, liturgy and teaching emphasizes “Christ the Crucified One”. On the other hand, the Orthodox Churches bear special witness to the Resurrection and the Ascension. In contrast, Anglicanism is often perceived as the Church of the Incarnation i.e. “The Word Became Flesh”. Indeed, one of my clergy colleagues asked me what Gospel we were reading for the celebration of the Christmas and I promptly replied the Gospel of John (John 1: 1-14) - The Gospel of the Incarnation. It starts:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life,and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
But why this emphasis on the Incarnation at Christmas? St. Athanasius of Alexandria, one of the great figures of the early church argued in his book “On the Incarnation” that Christ was with the Father and the Holy Spirit who created the world and the same Christ revealed God as Lord of love and light of redemption for all mankind. As Athanasius put it somewhat cryptically:
That which he assumed, is that which he redeemed
Or to put it in other words, humanity has been redeemed because it has been united with divinity, through the union of the two in Christ.
Indeed, for William Temple who served as Archbishop of Canterbury during the Second World War and was a strong advocate for social and economic justice, the Incarnation meant that:
Christianity is the most avowedly materialistic of all the great religions.
Whereas, the believers of other faiths hope to achieve spiritual reality by ignoring "matter" Christianity is crucially different since, based as it is on the Incarnation:
... it regards matter as destined to be the vehicle and the instrument of spirit and spirit as fully actual as far as it controls and directs matter.
Temple notes in his commentary, Readings in St. John’s Gospel that the world only has meaning and value when seen as the sacrament of God's life presence. Thus, Christ’s advent was not only to redeem humanity but the whole of creation. St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (Romans 8: 22 - 23) puts it this way:
We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free.
Christ coming among us brings salvation, wholeness and transformation for all the world. Paul again affirms this in Galatians 3: 28
In Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
But the Incarnation is not just a historical event. It is the ongoing presence of God in God's world. Indeed, whenever we the people of God (the Church) carry on worship, pray, study and engage in the work of mission it is God in Jesus Christ that is present and speaking through us. The two Collects for the Christmas Day affirm these two truths:
God came down among us to proclaim his love.
This love is not a seasonal experience, we must act out the Gospels in our daily living.
This is our challenge today. You see the contemporary Christmas season is often filled with a lot of activity and "busy'" work. We express our fellowship at Church but also spend a lot of time cleaning, painting and going to parties and numerous other social events. We bear witness to God's love by giving presents to children and adults. We sing Carols, we bless the Creche. We engage in lighting of the Advent Candles and focus on the four virtues of Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. Then at the feast of the Epiphany, we dismantle the Christmas tree, take down the Creche and decorations. We begin to hit the “All Inclusive” party circuit, the band launches and the “cooler fêtes”. We seem to forget all about Christ and his mission to the world and instead, we seem to take the instructions to “get on bad, bad, bad!” and to “mash up the place!” almost too literally. That is, till Ash Wednesday when we engage in some different ritualistic religious practices. Brothers and Sisters nothing is wrong with Carnival but what about the ideals and principles of the Christmas season and the lesson of the Incarnation. Perhaps, we all need to be guided by that Ella Fitzgerald standard “The Secret of Christmas”
So may I suggest, the secret of Christmas
It’s not the things you do
At Christmas time but the Christmas things you do
All year through
God witness means that Our Lord encompass in every aspect or life so that our living will reflect Christ’s glory, love, integrity and honesty.