The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s005g07 Christmass 25/12/2007 Christ Church Blayney
the word became flesh' John 1.14
I have recently finished reading the amazing book: 'The Short History of Nearly Everything' by Bill Bryson and it reminded me of the principle of 'the survival of the fittest' which Herbert Spencer (not Charles Darwin) coined in his book: 'Principles of Biology' in 1864, 'five years after the publication of 'On the Origin of the Species'.' (p465) The law of the jungle is not the law of humanity.
But much of what passes for religion actually is based on this same premise; that with God's help 'we' will become the fittest, and it will be 'us' who will survive, rather than others. We hope that our devotion will mean that God will bless us and curse those who have offended us, personally, or because they worship God in a different way to us.
As I reflected on this I thought perhaps this was the reason for humanities original vegetarianism - that humanity did not participate in the law of the jungle.
Today we celebrate the birth of a child, and the birth of a child marks the time when the foetus leaves the womb and emerges into the real world. For all the foetus is growing and alive in the womb, the child is really only considered fully alive after it is born.
Birth is a difficult and painful process, and one wonders sometimes whether the foetus would prefer to avoid the pain of birth. Years ago, when the AIDS crisis first became public, a colleague said to me that life itself was a sexually transmitted terminal illness. If we really knew what faced us in this life, one would indeed be tempted to remain 'in utero'; particularly if one was going to be born in poverty rather than the affluence mostly we enjoy.
But we have no choice. It is the human imperative to be born. Despite the pain of birth, and the prospects, or lack thereof, that face us in the real world, it cannot be avoided.
And despite the pain and uncertainty, birth is a joyful event. It is the pinnacle experience of all parents.
We celebrate Jesus' birth this day, into a world much less comfortable to our own. He was the person for others, par excellence.
Jesus mixed with all people, the rich and the poor, the religious and the unclean. Jesus was incarnated into the real world, not into some privileged or exclusive subset of the world. It was his joy to do this, and I contend that he was eventually killed because he associated with 'tax collectors and sinners' and not just the religious elite.
And yet my experience of the Church is that it has most often been content with the warmth and security of like-minded individuals, those who worship like us, those who live like us, those who do not challenge our perceptions of what is 'normal'. In doing so the Church has not and is not following Jesus. We are to be incarnated into the real world, not incarcerated within the seemingly secure walls, whether they be physical, doctrinal or whatever, of the 'church'.
We will truly celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, when we, who claim to be his body, are incarnated into the real world.
This will not be a painless process for the leaving of that which is familiar and comfortable is always daunting, but it is only by this birth that we as the church will really live. To pretend that the church, apart from the world, is able to confer life in all its fullness is laughable.
I started this sermon with the law of the jungle and the survival of the fittest, and this can only lead to mutually assured destruction. This is not God's will. It is up to us to decide to live in opposition to the world or be incarnated into it. There can be no question which path has the possibility for peace on earth.
There is no point whatsoever repeating 'ad nauseum': 'for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son' on street corners or television screens. This will not make any difference to us, to others or to the world at large. It will not make a scrap of difference how frequently and lustily we sing: 'while shepherds washed their socks by night'. (No guess as to what is my least favourite carol :-) No matter how fervently we believe that 'the Word became flesh' or receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. If we are not as a result incarnated into real humanity, Jesus might as well not have been born.
But in fact we are given no more choice than the about-to-be-born baby. No matter how far we travel in the opposite direction, God has a way of turning us around, and setting us on the right path, like with Jonah.
Often some 'christians' talk in terms of being born again, and I suggest that this is the same thing as being incarnated. But this is not some personal revolution independent of everyone else, but a change of attitude towards all others, rejoicing with all.
Lest some 'christians' think that I am neglecting St Paul here, consider his words: 'To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.' 1 Corinthians 9.22
'The Word became flesh' means that it is not what we do here in church, worshipping God that is important, but becoming at one with all people when we leave this place. The word 'Pharisee' means 'the separated one'. We as Christians are to be the complete opposite the incarnated ones.
So for me the joy of Christmass is the affirmation that the Word became flesh affirms who I am, without any religious, moral or any other overtones or imperatives. It is the joy that I can be myself and I can allow others to be themselves. I don't have to be better fitter than others for me to survive or for God to survive.
Peace is something to which we all aspire. That God sent Jesus to become and affirm my human existence, as it is, surely ought to give us some peace. The fact that God sent Jesus to proclaim the message 'love your neighbour' whoever they are, means that God accepts and affirms others in the same manner as myself. And if God accepts me and others on an equal basis, there is no need for me, or for anyone else, to try to convert or exterminate others, in the name of some 'god' or other. And surely this might lead to a more peaceful existence for all!
May you all have a very happy Christmass as you recognise that this means that you are accepted without any religious, moral or other overtones or imperatives, just like everybody else, and by this acceptance contribute to the peace of the world.
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