Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1.14)
Christmas has become a very sentimental holiday in recent years. A certain kind of emotion identified as the Christmas spirit. This Christmas spirit is compounded chiefly, I think, of a nostalgia for childhood, a longing for happy family get-togethers, and a need to feel at least once a year that all is well with the world.
I think, however, that our feverish efforts to whip up this Christmas spirit artificially become more fruitless and unrewarding every year, for seeking a Christmas spirit of this sort is bound to be a frustrating experience. After all, we cannot ever quite entirely escape the unsettling fear that the world is in chaos and the family in a state of collapse.
The Church corrects our sentimental tendencies by insisting upon the true character of Christmas, for Christmas, according to the Church, is primarily a spiritual holiday, in which we are bidden to contemplate the marvel and miracle of the Incarnation of the Son of God. To be sure, many pure and holy sentiments will flow from such contemplation, but we must start with the difficult mental task of devout reflection upon the mystery of the Word made flesh. And it is upon the path of such reflection that I hope to start now.
I suspect that some stranger to Prayer Book worship would have been quite surprised at the Epistle and Gospel which were read a few minutes ago. He probably would have expected to hear the familiar Christmas story from St. Luke. But instead we hear two difficult passages of theological reflection on the nature of Jesus Christ. We are forced to ask the question, ‘Who is Jesus Christ?,’ in a most profound and searching way.
Who, then, is Jesus Christ? Who is this babe born at Bethlehem and laid in a manger? This is the question we are compelled to ask by our Epistle and Gospel. In answering it, we shall correct all our false and inadequate sentiments, and open the way to a true appreciation of our Lord.
Now, the answer to our question is very simple and direct. . . and almost unbearable, for it is practically unthinkable and accessible finally only to faith.
The answer is this: Jesus Christ is both God and man. Try for a moment to contain that statement in your mind. This baby, the son of Mary, is also the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy and Undivided Trinity!
Think of the implications of this statement. This swaddled babe is the brightness of God’s glory. His newborn, precarious life isa the life which is the light of men. His inarticulate cries express the desires of him who upholds everything by the word of his power. His helpless limbs are also the members of him by whom everything was made that was made.
He is the Word made flesh, shining with God’s glory, equipped with his power, and replete with his truth. . . this babe, Jesus Christ. I do not think we can contain this reality, except by faith. In other words, I do not think we can bear this truth unless we also happen to be in love with it. For faith is a kind of knowledge certified by desire.
And yet, if we should have faith, if we should embrace this truth in our minds with the loving arms of the will, then we shall be given power to become the sons of God, for we shall be born again, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” And it was precisely to this end that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, “that we might live through him.” (1 John 4.9)
Perhaps now you can see why I said that today’s Epistle and Gospel correct all the false and inadequate sentiments of the season. I said this because they propose life to us, abundant life, the life of God shared with us by our incorporation into his Son. And surely the only alternative to a dead life animated only by sentiment is the reality of the God-man Jesus Christ and the new life he offers to those who will receive him.
So I ask you, please, make this Christmas a spiritual holiday. Don’t be content for another year with the frustrating hell of a secular Christmas. Instead, cradle Jesus in your minds with love. Make your contemplation of the Christ child the centre of your holiday. Then you will find that all shall be well with the world, “all shall be well, all manner of thing shall be well.”
A happy and Holy Christmas,
Father Ed Bakker
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne
Launceston on Tasmania