These words, concerning the Word, are among the most celebrated words ever written. They create a frame – a manger, if you will – in which to place the One who is both fully God and fully human; and just like the manger in which Luke tells us Jesus was laid, they are at one and the same time unworthy yet chosen and dignified by God-with-us. As we gaze on the manger, may we see the face of Christ.
These words are deep, pointing to a mystery beyond our understanding. Nevertheless, they speak to us with words of invitation and of challenge – invitation to us when we believe that all this is beyond our knowing, and challenge to us when we believe we are already in the know.
What does it mean to be a witness to the light (v 8)?
How might we (fail to) recognise (v 10) and receive (v 11) this light?
What does it look like, for the Word to have become flesh and made his dwelling among us (v 14)?
Let me offer these suggestions, as a start:
The-Word-become-flesh-and-dwelling-among-us looks like local churches coming alongside couples preparing to start out on the challenging adventure of marriage, or families adjusting to the addition of another member, or grieving the death of one of their own...
It looks like local churches running food banks for those who have been hit hardest by the recession; or youth clubs in areas where there are no other safe places where teenagers can gather together; or any of the other activities that make up the thousands of hours of voluntary service given by church members every week.
The-Word-become-flesh-and-dwelling-among-us also looks like this: the asylum-seeker, the sex worker, the elderly person who has lost control of their bladder and their memory, the disaffected youth, the Big Issue seller, the hurting and the hopeful, the person who rarely if ever comes into a church at a service of public worship because they don’t know what is expected or don’t feel worthy or capable of contributing to all that goes on. Jesus said that whenever we serve such people, we are – quite unaware – serving him, encountering him in our neighbourhood. Perhaps if we are only aware of the respectable people in our neighbourhood, or the people who do not make us feel uncomfortable, then we haven’t seen Jesus for some time...
You see, the-Word-become-flesh-and-dwelling-among-us is both incomprehensibly mysterious and earthily ordinary; bigger than our imagination can conceive, and so small we miss it, right under our nose, again and again.
And so, this Holy Night, what is it that God’s Spirit is whispering to your spirit?
Will you see me?
Will you welcome me?
Will you see me, and welcome me, in you?
Will you live in such a way that others get the opportunity to see me and to welcome me, too? Will you be a manger for the Christ child?
Such a whisper may bring us to our knees, in conviction of our failings, in wonder that God loves us so very greatly. And that, as John understood when he came to write down his account of Jesus, is the place of the beginning.
Happy Christmas! May you know both joy and peace, both grace and truth, both now and in the days ahead.