Christmas Midnight

December 24, 2014

Helen Jacobi

Isaiah 52:7-10     Psalm 98     Hebrews 1:1-12     John 1:1-14

Video available on YouTube, Facebook

 

In the beginning

life

grace

truth

flesh

 

These words have a timeless poetry about them. All the more so because we listen to them in the dark, amongst these stones and candles, on this night. Just as people have listened to them now for centuries, millennia even.

 

In the beginning

life

grace

truth

flesh

 

The Celts talk about “thin places” where time seems to stand still and where you feel like you can reach back in time and sense the story of your ancestors. Thin places in Aotearoa tend to be marae or urupa; but also churches, or summer baches where childhood memories can come flooding back. It might just take the scent of the pohutakawa, or the taste of a barbecued sausage, or the sand between your toes to remind you of carefree summer days, when holidays meant holidays with no email or phones to keep you connected.

 

In the beginning

life

grace

truth

flesh

 

These words at the beginning of John’s gospel also trigger memories and reflections in the lives of people of faith. This tale John is about to weave begins in the beginning of time, back in the creation stories of Genesis, back in ancient times of which no one has any memories. But still, they try to reach back with both myth and science. And so John weaves a tale of life that began in the beginning and now breaks upon the world in a new way. Now this life comes not in light and stars and sun and moon as it did at the genesis of time, but in flesh, in human flesh, of the ordinary and the every day. John does not tell us the tale of the baby and the shepherds and the wise men, but he tells us the essence of the tale – Jesus, the Word, became flesh and lived among us.

 

God was always incarnate, embodied, enfleshed in the people – but often they couldn’t see it. They kept God separated in the Holy of Holies in the Temple; or somewhere in the sky. No matter how many times the prophets said, God is here, now, with the poor and the oppressed and the captives; people thought God was far away and remote and separate. And so the Word became flesh and lived among us.

 

Jesus lived in Palestine, at a specific time and a specific place. He taught and ate and drank and prayed and healed and was killed for his teaching. Yet because he was

life

grace

truth

within flesh

death could not be the end for him.

 

And so John wrote his tale of grace and truth that we might seek grace and truth within ourselves and within each other. Because God was always incarnate, embodied, enfleshed in the people and they hadn’t seen it.

 

Perhaps now we might.

 

This life of grace and truth is there for all who seek it. Not just in Palestine, not just in Europe where most of our carols and Christmas images come from. In Aotearoa, this tale has been told for 200 short years.

 

In other places longer.

 

Each culture and each time takes the story up and embeds it in their culture, in their way.

 

Cardinal Avery Dulles once said “Christmas does not give us a ladder to climb out of the human condition. It gives us a drill to burrow into the heart of everything that is, and there, find it already shimmering with divinity.” [1]

 

200 years ago tomorrow Reverend Samuel Marsden and Chief Ruatara of Nga Puhi held the first Christian service in Aotearoa at Oihi in the Bay Of Islands. If you were at the 11pm Carol Service you will have heard an account read of that day. Secular historians have not been particularly kind to the early Christian missionaries but more recent writers such as Keith Newman [2] have helped to shine a kinder light on their arduous endeavours, and their desire to understand and embed the gospel into the culture they found here. Ruatara was appallingly treated by two ship’s captains and had been left to die twice on Norfolk Island; both times assisted and restored to health by Marsden and his wife Elizabeth. It was from Ruatara that Marsden learnt his first Maori and began to understand Maori ways. Ruatara would sadly die only 10 weeks after that first Christmas Day. And we remember him now as Te Ara mo te Rongopai – the gateway for the good news.

 

You may well know the names of the some of the English missionaries: Williams, Colenso, King, Brown.

 

But the other names – Taumata-a-kura; Nopera Panakareao; Wiremu Nera Ngatai; Minarapa Rangihautuke [3]; young girl Tarore of Waharoa martyred at 12 years old; other martyrs Kereopa and Te Manihera; these are the names of those for whom the gospel became flesh and dwelt in this land. The first Maori Anglican priest Roto Waitoa was ordained in 1853; Te Aute College in Hawke’s Bay opened in 1854.

 

This tale of

life

grace

truth

within flesh

does not belong to one culture, or one time.

 

It calls out to us as it did 200 years ago in Oihi. It calls out to us as it does today in Bethlehem where pilgrims must get past the shameful separation Wall to worship. It calls out to us as it does today in northern Iraq where after 2000 years of Christian worship no church communities gather any longer to hear it.

 

It calls out to us as it does today in Peshwar, Pakistan; the Sudan; Liberia; Sydney; the Philippines; Tonga; anywhere you can name. It calls out to us this night, here in the dark, amongst these stones. It calls out to us even though we witness the atrocities of children killed in Peshwar; even though someone in Sydney can be shot for going to get a cup of coffee. Even though and especially when we suffer and are sad.

 

The question for us here tonight is how does this tale of

life

grace

truth

become enfleshed in our lives.

 

This Christmas can we burrow into our hearts and the hearts of those we know and love and find there some divinity.

 

And then can we look to those we do not know and see the light of

life

grace

truth

enfleshed there as well.

 

We invite you tonight to allow God to be present with you, in you.

In the beginning was the Word;

in him was life;

and the life was the light of all people;

and the Word became flesh and lived among us;

full of grace and truth.

 

 

 

[1] Quoted in “this radical grace” article by Daniel O’leary; Tui Motu Christmas 2014; original source unknown.

 

[2] Bible and Treaty

 

[3] Wai Karere John Bluck p.26

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