O that one might plead for a man with God, as a man pleadeth for his neighbour! (Job 16: 21)
Is that cry echoed in our generation?
John the Baptist proclaimed the end of the wait and Jesus echoes his cry,
And he turned him unto his disciples, and said privately, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: For I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. Luke 10: 23-24)
Is that how we feel tonight? Does that adequately express our motives for coming? Does it indeed answer Job’s cry and the cry of those like him?
There was much talk in my youth of God ‘bridging the gap’ and of ‘rescue missions’ and there is no harm in that. Those phrases express part of the truth of God’s action in sending his Son, but it is not the whole truth.
What Jesus proclaims from his birth onwards, through his teaching, death and resurrection is a new creation. Jesus declares from cradle to grave and beyond what it is to be human – so that we can live, die and live again with him.
To begin to understand this we are taken by St. John in his Prologue to the beginning of time.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1: 1)
Our focus then moves courtesy of St. Matthew and St. Luke in their accounts to Mary and the cradle where the eternal finds his home. This is indeed very special because it is God’s doing – not from afar – but from the midst of his people. This is the true meaning of ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us.
Fr. James Martin SJ recalls his visit to the Holy Land in his book ‘The Pilgrimage.’ He recounts how he was advised by a friend before leaving home to look closely at the inscription on the altar in the Church of the Annunciation at Nazareth. On arriving he did just that and instead of the familiar words, Verbum caro factum est – the Word was made flesh, he read the words Verbum caro hic factum est and the truth of the incarnation came home in a most profound way. That which might have been story or just legend was the truth – God had acted in the world: the Word was made flesh here.
God comes into his creation in a special way which gives us a unique chance to respond to his grace. It is about this that St. Paul writes to Titus,
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. (Titus 2: 11)
This grace is an undeserved gift and it is one which brings healing for all mankind. It is God’s reply to Job’s plea – and to that of many others. It is not a waving of a magic wand, but a seal upon the new creation; begun in the Christ child and embraced by his disciples. This presence of the divine and the healing that goes with it is ours by grace.
Tonight is a remembrance, a re-telling of the Christmas story and a celebration of faith and hope. It is also a commitment to a new creation, to a new beginning and the fulfilment of God’s will. All because the word was made flesh – and made flesh here – where you and I dwell.
Father Andrew Burton SSC
St. James, Congleton 1996
St. Peter, Bushey Heath 2018 (adapted)