St Francis, Terriers - Christmas Eve midnight - (24.12.2016)

Tony Dickinson

“In the beginning was the blueprint.” That’s not quite what St John says in the prologue to his Gospel which we heard a few minutes ago – at least not according to most of the English-language translations of the New Testament. They agree on translating the Greek “λογος” into English as “word”, with a capital “W”. “The Word was with God. The Word was God…” And finally, “The Word became flesh”.

But “λογος” is a very slippery word. My old and battered dictionary of Ancient Greek normally allows a line or two to cover the meaning or meanings of each word, and a couple of examples of how it is used. “Λογος”, however, takes up a whole page, with meanings and examples of how it is used falling over one another across two columns of close-packed text. Not just “word”, but (among many others) “speech”, “story”, “reason”, “argument”, “first principle”, “reckoning”, “account”; anything, in other words, that enables us to draw sense and meaning out of our experience, to relate different sets of data, as a blue-print make sense of an engineer’s calculations.

So when St John describes Jesus as God’s “λογος” he is making a huge and many-sided claim – one that operates on many different levels. John is saying, most simply, that the life of Jesus is how God expresses himself in human terms. That in the way he lived, in the death that he suffered, and in his resurrection, Jesus tells us all we need to know about God: that he reveals himself in suffering, self-giving, unconditional Love. That is how “the Word became flesh and lived among us”.

But John is saying more than that. He is saying that the kind of love revealed in Jesus is God’s reason for creating the universe. Love is the answer to the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Love is the judge before whom we will have to give an account of ourselves at the end of our life. And Love is the story of our relationship with God; a story which includes rejection, betrayal, denial and the promise of ultimate triumph.

That promise may be hard to believe in a world as fraught and full of foreboding as ours is at this year’s end. We have witnessed the drawn-out destruction of one of the Middle East’s great cities by its own government. In the Vicarage we have shared the shock and grief of the people of Nice. One morning at the beginning of July we strolled along the Promenade des Anglais in search of breakfast on our way to holiday in Genoa. Two days after Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel had zigzagged his murderous way along the same road on Bastille Day, we were again in Nice, changing trains, and watched helplessly as a man on the platform opposite went into emotional meltdown. All of us have shared in the shock and sorrow of the people of Berlin, of Kayseri and Istanbul, as they have come under terrorist attack. We have hung our heads in shame at the news that British-made munitions, including weapons banned by international treaty, are being used in Yemen to target hospitals and wedding celebrations. And we have discovered that for many white Christians in the USA their race carries much more weight than their faith in deciding how they cast their vote.

Even more worryingly, it is being said on both sides of the Atlantic that we now live in a “post-truth” culture. Rejection, betrayal and denial can cut free from boring old facts to create an alternative reality – and woe betide those who take a different view. In our own country the self-image of the British as a tolerant people has taken several severe blows since the murder of Jo Cox. In his “Thought for the Day” during the “Today” programme on Thursday, the Prince of Wales issued this warning: “We are now seeing the rise of many populist groups across the world that are increasingly aggressive towards those who adhere to a minority faith. All of this has deeply disturbing echoes of the dark days of the 1930s.”

But, as we shall sing in a few minutes, “all out of darkness we have light”. In the birth of Jesus “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world”. That light, as St John reminds us, “shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” It did not overcome it. It will not overcome it.

It will not overcome it, because it cannot. Love is the first principle underlying God’s creation. Love lights the darkness through the hospitality of Greek islanders, who have laid aside their own severe problems in order to welcome the refugees washed up in thousands on their shores, and in the efforts made by people from our town (and not least our own congregation) both to provide support for those people displaced by the conflict in Syria and to offer hospitality to refugees who have reached this country. Love lights the darkness in our town through the work of Wycombe Homeless Connection and the One Can Trust food bank. Love lights the darkness through the number of Christians in the USA who have signed up for the “Matthew 25 Pledge” as an act of resistance against the divisive programme of their President-elect, taking up the words of Jesus from the parable of the judgement in Matthew 25, where the King says, “… I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me ... Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

In these actions, the light of God’s love is piercing the darkness. In these actions people are playing their part in interpreting God’s blue-print for our age. They are a vivid reminder that the Word was not only made flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. The Word is made flesh in every situation of need or distress, and in every human response to that need, as people play their part in the continuing story of God’s incarnation, accepting the gift of “the power to become children of God” and welcoming others as God’s children. To quote Prince Charles again, “Whichever religious path we follow, the destination is the same – to value and respect the other person, accepting their right to live out their peaceful response to the love of God.”

And now to God the Father, who first loved us…