Christmas Day, December 25 2016
Isaiah 52.7-10; Hebrews 1.1-5; John 1.1-14
Rev Páraic Réamonn, Church of Scotland
Who would think that what was needed
to transform and save the earth
might not be a plan or army,
proud in purpose, proved in worth?
Who would think, despite derision,
that a child should lead the way?
From beginning to end, our Bibles – both the Christian and the Jewish Bibles – conduct an impassioned argument with themselves.
Is the God in whom we believe a God of wrath or a God of mercy?
Is our God a God of violence and power, a Lord of hosts who comes with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm to wreak vengeance on his enemies?
Or is our God a God in whom grace and truth encounter each other, and justice and peace embrace?
From beginning to end in our human history, we have walked in the ways of violence. As Cain discovered early on, they don’t work.
If you have a knife, I take a sword. If you have a bronze sword, I make myself a sword of iron. If you have a gun, I make a machine-gun. And so it goes, until war becomes an industrial killing machine and finally we invent nuclear weapons, weapons of mass destruction that we cannot use against our enemies without also destroying ourselves and the planet we share with them.
From beginning to end in our human history, we have tried the paths of power. They don’t work any better.
Leave aside tyrannical kings, imperial rulers and tin-pot dictators: they are easy targets. Time enough for them when we come to the Massacre of the Innocents. Think for a moment of global warming. Reckless of the consequences, of which we have known for decades, we have used the power of coal and gas and oil to fuel a worldwide industrial revolution, and the result is a planet in meltdown.
Climate change and nuclear war are the two most serious existential threats we face today; but there are threats enough to go around. We are a race drunk on violence and power, and puffed up with our own importance, and our inclination is to make God in our own distorted image. But is this really what God is like?
On Christmas Day, God settles the argument. God gives the definitive answer to our question by emptying himself and coming down to earth in the form of a little child.
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
and a little child shall lead them.
A little child shall lead us. But not unless we want to be led. Not unless we want God to remake us in God’s image, instead of the other way round.
Here is how John Bell and Graham Maule finish the verse from our hymnary (CH4 295) with which I began:
God surprises earth with heaven,
coming here on Christmas Day.
God surprises us by coming, not in strength but in weakness, not in power and might but as a helpless babe.
As he grows through life, this child in the manger continually invites us to surprise ourselves.
He invites us, first, to become like little children, recognizing how we depend on God, and then, to grow up in every way, to cast off our foolish childishness and become mature, as he himself is mature. He invites us to reject the idols of power and wealth and to kennel the dogs of war.
Sitting astride a mountaintop in the Galilee, he tells us:
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
And when we listen, then he leads us.