This is a bit late going up, but I’ve had a few days off and deliberately stayed away from my computer during that time. Here’s the homily I preached on Christmas Day.
Isaiah 52.7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1.1-12; John 1.1-14
+ In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In our readings this morning, there’s no mention of a journey to Bethlehem, a baby in the manager, or visiting shepherds. But if ever there was a sentence to sum up the significance of Christmas, the introduction from the letter to the Hebrews must certainly be it: ‘Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by a Son.’
The Son. The Word. God’s eternal speech.
At Midnight Mass last night, we heard about the birth of the Messiah through stories, particularly through Luke’s gospel. But this morning, we hear about the Incarnation through poetry, through the great poems of Isaiah and the psalmist, the writer of the letter to the Hebrews and John.
It is as though the wonder of the Incarnation cannot be described except through exquisite metaphor and an economy of language, words carefully chosen, woven together, loved into being.
The poetic form itself expresses something of the message. Throughout our scriptures, creation is an act of speech, and the Greek word for ‘create’ is ‘poiew’, the root of our word poem.
In the beginning, God spoke the world into being; God said, ‘Let there be …’ and there was, and so day and night, heaven and earth, land and sea, plants and animals, and humanity were all formed. God: poet of heaven and earth.
In the beginning was the Word; all things came into being through him. The Word is the giver of life, God’s delight beyond time, radiant with God’s love, a reflection of the unimaginable beauty and light of the source from which he comes. Jesus: God’s incarnate poem.
In the Incarnation, God’s eternal expression is revealed within our world and within human history. And through the Son, God speaks simply, in a language we can understand, through a life which is nothing short of a love poem for us and all of creation, a poem of healing, forgiveness and welcome, a poem that calls us to new life.
The 12th century mystic Hildegard of Bingen wrote: ‘God willed that his Word should create all things, as he had foreordained before the ages. And why is it called a Word? Because with a resounding voice it awakened all creatures and called them to itself.’
She continues: ‘In the same way, human beings, formed in the Creator’s likeness, are inescapably creative, for we work with our hands and command with our voices. “What was made in the Word was life”: Like our Creator, we too live by the works that we create. By our making, we reveal ourselves to ourselves, and, what is more, we reveal God to one another. God’s rational word echoes in our speech, his praise resounds in our songs, and his creativity is declared in our creations.’
Through Christ, God seeks us out to be his children, to be his continued speech, his song, his poetry.
Four weeks ago, we began Advent with a service of music and poems, and so I will finish with one of the poems we read at that service, ‘In the Days of Caesar’ by Waldo Williams (translated from the Welsh by Rowan Williams):
In the days of Caesar, when his subjects went to be reckoned,
there was a poem made, too dark for him (naive with power) to read.
It was a bunch of shepherds who discovered
in Bethlehem of Judah, the great music beyond reason and reckoning:
shepherds, the sort of folk who leave the ninety-nine behind
so as to bring the stray back home, they heard it clear,
the subtle assonances of the day, dawning toward cock-crow,
the birthday of the Lamb of God, shepherd of mortals.
Well, little people, and my little nation, can you see
the secret buried in you, that no Caesar ever captures in his lists?
Will not the shepherd come to fetch us in our desert,
gathering us in to give us birth again, weaving us into one
in a song heard in the sky over Bethlehem?
He seeks us out as a wordhoard for his workmanship, the laureate of heaven.