The Parish of Burchetts Green

This month Rev Keith writes about

Reality not just theory

That is the crux of what Christmas is all about. The unknowable mystery of God, that we can debate about until the cows come home, becomes accessible, comprehendible...a human being!

The Divine reality

‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’ It was this that many in first century Israel could not accept. The almighty God couldn’t possibly appear as a helpless baby, nor for that matter, as a seemingly pathetic figure hanging from a Roman cross. Nothing changes. These days, if people believe in God at all, then often God is thought of as far off, the divine watchmaker, set apart, distant from our humanity, irrelevant to our everyday life. But the Christmas story contradicts this completely. The good news of Christmas is that, far from being distant, immutable or indifferent to human weakness and pain, God has enjoined himself in it and entered this messy world on our terms.

Becoming God’s children

And so it’s natural that the first thing John wants to say about the word be- come flesh is that, to those who received him, he gave the right to become God’s children. God and each of us – parent and child; the closest possible relation- ship. And we experience this parent/ child relationship for ourselves because the Holy Spirit of God dwells in us. Listen to St Paul: ‘For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God... And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.’

‘Out of his fullness we have all received grace … grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,’ John concludes. As we reflect on the meaning of Christmas this year, I pray we will all experience Jesus personally, Jesus full of grace and truth.

May I wish you all a very happy Christmas.

The rather smug schoolmaster who taught me religious education at secondary school would treat the straightforward accepting faith of the members of my church’s youth group with contempt. He delighted in trying to blind us with obscure theological arguments, making us look silly in front of the rest of the class. He was also fond of taking on the more atheistic members of the class in esoteric arguments demonstrating the rationality of believing in God.

‘People can reach God by process of rigorous intellectual exercise’, he would say, although apparently ‘people’ did not include me for he once wrote on my school report: ‘Keith shows no capacity for intellectual exercise whatsoever.’

Changing minds didn’t change hearts

The RE master would normally win the arguments he had against my atheist friends, but none of them changed their minds as a result. Although believing in God is rational – far more rational than its atheist alternative– few people come to a living faith in God that way. Maybe that’s because God’s thoughts are not our thoughts: ‘as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my thoughts higher than your thoughts’, God tells Isaiah.

From theory to reality

‘In the beginning was the Word’, says St John at the start of his reflection on the incarnation, the birth of Jesus Christ on that first Christmas Day. John is echoing back to the very start of the Bible: ‘In the beginning God...’  Genesis continues: ‘God said let there be light and there was light’. Again John picks up the theme: ‘In him (the Word) was life and that life was the light of all mankind.’

All jolly good theological stuff. God is the original cause; the reason why there is something rather than nothing. Without God there is no intellectual basis for knowledge. What we think becomes no more than the product of random chance - just the sort of thing my RE teacher would use in his debates with my atheist friends. But then John changes tack: ‘The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. The Word become flesh made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory…’