Monday 25 December - Christmas Day - Lessons and Carols - Stephen Holmes

11.15am Lessons & Carols Christmas 2017 – John 1:1-14

+ ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.’

In carols and music and words we have inherited the glories of the Christian tradition of Christmas and, in our own generation, we have invented… the Christmas jumper. We learn from the Asda website: ‘The festive season isn't complete without a group photo of everyone in their Christmas jumpers. It's impossible not to catch the Christmas spirit while wearing brightly coloured knitwear featuring snowmen, Santa, reindeers and more fun designs. The nation is united in their love of Christmas jumpers and has made it one of the big trends.’ One of our own congregation recently took part in the big ‘Sleep in the Park’, in sub-zero temperatures, to raise over £3.6 million for the homeless. An amazing result, but as he appeared on the platform in his warm clothes, Bob Geldof looked at him and said ‘not another eff-blank-blank Christmas jumper’. One priest I know has one with a lovely nativity scene. Over the top are the words ‘spoiler alert’, and underneath it says ‘he dies’.

Now, I haven’t yet watched series seven of Game of Thrones or series two of Outlander and I don’t want spoilers, but here, at Christmas, we all know the story. Like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ or ‘A Christmas Carol’, we come to the story again and again, knowing what’s going to happen and loving it. Angels, Shepherds, three Kings, Mary, more angels, Joseph, baby Jesus in the manger with the animals. We even started today with Adam and Eve when it all went wrong. But what does it mean?

You may have noticed a lot of angels in what we have sung and heard, but in our last reading from John the angels have disappeared and we get those majestic words ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God and the Word was with God… and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’. When you see angels you know it’s a good story, a frightened young man and his pregnant girlfriend, dirty shepherds and brainy wise men from the East. But John, after whom this building is named, sees through the drama to the meaning. God becomes human and reveals God as a Trinity – God; God’s Word who becomes man; and God’s Spirit who makes this happen. God is not a cold, abstract and selfish singularity. Our God is a community of love; and at Christmas we see this in action.

If you love someone you want to be with them. If Uncle Albert turns up for dinner today in his Christmas jumper, it may test you whether you love him or not. The message of Christmas is that God loves us so much he wants to share our life, even to being born like us: ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’. This tells us something about God; but also something about us. Whether you accept the Christmas story as truth, myth or both together, it means every human being has value. If God is a baby, every child is sacred, every person has value. The big ‘Sleep in the Park’ recognised this solidarity, as does the St John’s team who cook for the homeless at the Bethany Night Shelter. We hope our new Cornerstone Centre, open next year, will be a place for living this solidarity.

‘The nation is united in their love of Christmas jumpers and has made it one of the big trends.’ I wonder what would happen if the nation were united in the real message of Christmas in solidarity with each other? We wouldn’t have the current epidemic of loneliness and there would be no need for food banks. This church building enters its third century next year, it has seen the abolition of slavery and the overthrow of evil leaders like Hitler and Mugabe. What it will see in its bicentenary year will depend on us and whether we catch the Christmas spirit which is about God becoming flesh and dwelling among us, teaching us solidarity and love. No spoilers, we’ll find out how it ends at Easter. But today, as we sing, ‘joy to the world, the Lord is come’, let us rejoice in the true spirit of Christmas and share our joy with those around us. A merry Christmas to you all.