Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-7; John1:1-18
In 1878, Ivan Turgenev wrote his stunning prose poem, Kristos. In it, he finds himself in a dream standing in a village church amongst the peasant congregation. A man comes and stands beside him…a man at whom he did not look but who he “felt was Christ.”
When, eventually he did steal a glance at the man, he saw, “…a face like everyone’s face. A face like all men’s faces…and the clothes on him like everyone else’s.”
Turgenev goes on to write, “What kind of a Christ is this then…such an ordinary, ordinary man? Suddenly I was afraid…and came to my senses. Only then did I realize that it is just such a face…a face like all men’s faces…that is the face of Christ.”
And, of course, that is much of what this season of Christmastide is to be about…the very ordinariness of the coming into the world of the creator of all things seen and unseen. It is in that very ordinariness that you and I might begin to find hope that, if we would have it so, life can be different for us and for the world about us.
I know that for the hour or two of services taking place amidst the beauty, joy, and peace of parish churches as lovely as this one…in homes lovingly prepared for the fleeting moments of the holidays…among family and friends who may only see each other for these few days each year…it is difficult to expend much energy on wondering how life might be different. It’s simply too special a time for most of us…and perhaps, perhaps, we are right simply to rejoice in the specialness.
The days, however, do pass (Tuesday morning lies only 48 hours away)…the ordinary returns…and it is this ordinary world which the child we celebrate at Christmas came to save.
Not through pomp or notoriety…not through worldly grandeur or earthly power…but in the humility which began in a manger in a cow shed amongst dumb animals and shepherds and ended on a cross on the garbage dump outside Jerusalem. Not in the prideful and narcissistic doing of what he wanted to do regardless of the effects of his actions upon others…but through self-sacrificial love which emptied itself for the good of the world about it.
Step by step…act of love and caring upon act of love and caring, he showed us that human beings can make life different for themselves and for those with whom they make this earthly journey. But always in the midst of the ordinary.
Turgenev was right to be afraid, for what he realized is that it is you and it is me who will be Christ present upon this earth. The utterly amazing fact is, not so much, that the person standing next to us can make Christ real in this life…but that you and I…you and I…in all our ordinariness…all our human imperfection…can be the vehicles for bringing Christ into the midst of the creation.
That is the message of the nativity and the manger. For God so loved the world that he sent his only son into the world that the world…the everyday daily world you and I inhabit…might be saved…changed from what it and we are…to what God would have us be.
In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it…if you and I will not let it do so.
I wonder if it is, perhaps, appropriate to recall, in this season and on the eve of a new year, the prescient words of Alfred Lord Tennyson in the 106th canto of his poem, In Memoriam (to Arthur Hallam):
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells and let him die.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
A glorious Christmastide and new year filled with blessings (both given and received) to each of you.