Friday, December 23, 2005

The Word Became Flesh

In many ways the Gospel text for Christmas Day (John 1:1-14) is a very heavenly and spiritual text. It may be hard to relate to on Christmas Day when we have the more earthly images of mangers and donkeys and shepherds, and mothers and new born babies in mind. Instead here we have the cosmic Word who was in the beginning with God and through whom all things are made. We have the One who was the life and the light of the world. We have the glory of the One and Only – the “only begotten” to use the older language - who came from the Father full of grace and truth. There is none of the historical concreteness that we find in Luke and Matthew with their record of governors and procurators, and a census, and a pregnant teenager bride, and a worried husband, and a journey, and a star, and inns with no rooms. Instead, John begins “in the beginning” – not just in the beginning of his story, but in the very beginning – before time began – in eternity. And yet this is the very point of Christmas – that the eternal has touched the temporal – that the heavenly and the earthly have been joined – that God has been contracted to fit into a cradle. What we need is eyes to see that the extraordinary is to be found in the ordinary.

U. A. Fanthorpe, the first woman ever to be nominated as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, penned the following poem, called “B.C:A.D.”

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future's
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

Some people have criticised the City of Melbourne’s nativity photographs this year. The Melbourne City Council has set up a manger scene and you can have members of your family photographed as Joseph and Mary, or a shepherd or a wise man, or even the baby Jesus. It’s a kind of religious alternative, I guess, to having your photo taken with Santa Claus. Some people don’t like this because it seems to them to be a little tacky, or even sacrilegious. But I think there is something wonderful in people wanting to be identified with the Holy Family. Maybe some people shudder at the “kind” of people who might impersonate these saints and shepherds and wise men – shouldn’t they be particularly holy folks before they don the biblical robes of the nativity? I can only say “Bah Humbug!” to that. The baby Jesus did not grow up to be the kind of person who would only associate with “quality people” (whatever they are). He was the friend of sinners who touched the lives of ordinary people and made them extraordinary. Maybe some of these will end up, like the three visitors from the East, walking “haphazard by starlight straight into the kingdom of heaven.”

The following prayer from the Church of Scotland illustrates this well:

Today O God
the soles of your feet
have touched the earth.
the back street, the forgotten place
have been lit up with significance.
the households of earth
welcome the King of heaven.
For you are one of us.
So may our songs rise to surround your throne
as our knees bend to salute your cradle.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Glen - Stumbled upon your blog when searching for the poem BC:AD. I heard it in our Christmas Eve service last night. You have a cool blog!

Merry Christmas from Avon Lake, Ohio, USA
I also liked your prayer from the Church of Scotland.


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