The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Monday, January 02, 2006


Everyone loves to celebrate the birth of a baby. It is a most human thing to do, and it is why we are here tonight. The arrival of a baby brings change to the family into which it is born. That is true of the baby whose birth we celebrate tonight, but this baby rang changes which went far beyond the family into which he was born.

For one thing, this baby makes very unusual demands on us, asking us to believe certain things about him, things which have far reaching consequences for each and every one of us.

He is God, this baby; God the Son. And right there huge numbers of people are presented with a difficulty which they find hard to overcome. It has been like that since his birth, over 2,000 years ago. On the face of it, the problem these people have and have had is understandable.

Why would God, Holy and Almighty, spend nine months swimming around in the dark waters of a human womb?

“Well, you see,” the Christian might answer, somewhat diffidently, “He came to save us.”

Really? See question 1, above, Why would God spend nine months swimming around in a human womb?

After all, is this not the same, all powerful God who created us?

Was it not He who hit the Eqyptians with one plague after another until finally Pharoah let the Hebrews leave Egypt?

Was it not He who parted the waters of the Red Sea so that Moses could lead the Israelites across? Did He not then engulf the hosts of Pharoah in those same waters, saving Israel out of the hand of the Egyptians?

Is not the Old Testament replete with examples of the great power exercised by this God? He didn’t need the womb of Mary to come among us, did He? He could have arrived like King Kong, all might, muscle and black eyed fury, slapping recalcitrant sinners back into line. Of course, He would have been robed in shining white and with a couple of heavy duty wings beating on His back.

Yes, He could have done that, but this is not a God who forces his creatures to do anything. He is a God who shows us the way and asks us to follow; who disciplines with firmness and love those who genuinely err; who offers hope and promises a future of joy beyond our imagination to those who hear and obey and punishment beyond our imagination to those who hear and willfully disobey.

So, yes, this baby, this Jesus, whose birth we celebrate today, asks that we believe certain things about Him. St. John, in masterful writing, encapsulates some of those things.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. In that one, short, dramatic sentence St. John places Jesus in the Godhead and in the timelessness of eternity.

At the same time, St. John has placed anyone who encounters these words on a frightening spot, rather like a trapdoor with unspeakable horrors beneath it. Remember the collect for Advent II, which begins, Almighty God, who hast caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Learn and believe the opening words of the Gospel and you get to step off the trapdoor to get on with your search for sanctification.

But deny them and you are making of God a liar, not St. John, but God, who caused the scripture to be written. At which point the trapdoor will fall and drop you into a very dangerous place. Dangerous because in denial of God, you will live in sin and because you have discounted His warnings, you will probably enjoy that sin and be very happy wallowing in it. Ray Comfort, the Kiwi evangelist, says categorically that sin is enjoyable. If it wasn’t we wouldn’t do it. But enjoyable or not, it is always dangerous because it has to be answered for on the day of judgement.

And we can be sure that on that day, God will ask why we did not believe in Jesus Christ and why, in so denying Him, we made of God a liar. I don’t know about you, but I have enough to answer for without having to deal with the question, Why did you make of your Almighty God a liar?

The Word was God. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Here, St. John directs us to consider not so much the outward fact of the Nativity, that he has left to other writers, St. Matthew and St. Luke. St. John directs us to consider its eternal meaning. Here is the beginning of the hope of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is the reason for that nine month sojourn in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

What better way could there be for God to send the message that you, mortal man, are part of me, the Eternal God? The relationship between God and man is proclaimed to be more intimate than most of us ever realise, which is sad because it would be so much easier to hope if we could feel the closeness of God.

I am going to digress just a little here to illustrate the meaning of hope in God with a story from my recent trip to South Sudan. It is the story of a seven year old boy, Simon and it will bring tears to the eyes of some of you. That’s OK, I will probably join you.

Simon lived near Rumbek, deep in the south. One day Government troops on horseback raided his village. Simon was made to watch as his parents were killed. Simon was then grabbed and dragged by the retreating troops through a river, almost drowning him. He was taken to the north, where he was made a slave house boy. His job was to tend sheep, a task so new to him that he lost some of the animals. His master put a noose around his neck, tied him to a camel and slapped the camel. The boy was dragged to the point of death. The master then sold Simon to another owner, who was displeased with him and sold him again. This master also gave Simon jobs the seven year old could not do and one day he took the boy into the bush. He hanged him by his neck from a tree and walked off.

Before Simon died, a man came upon him and cut him down. Miraculously, this man was from the same, oh so distant village as the little boy and he took him to safety in the town of Agok.

Tom Zurowski, the American pastor who related the story to me, asked Simon how he felt about it all. With a huge smile on his face the little boy answered, “I believe God must have a wonderful plan for my life.”

That is the hope we find in the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Word was made flesh. The Son of God, who was in the beginning with God, by the will of the Father and the action of the Holy Spirit, by His own voluntary act of infinite love, became flesh. St. John chose his words with great care, saying not that the Word became man, but the Word became flesh.

That word, flesh, expresses so profoundly the fullness of our nature which Jesus took upon Himself. It incorporates all our vulnerability to pain, to weariness, to sorrow and to death. And it helps us to see the driving force of Divine Love behind the Incarnation.

In thus absorbing our nature, in becoming fully human, Jesus Christ makes the unequivocal statement that in the sight of God all men are equal. At the same time, He renewed creation and gives us, through His life, the hope of life eternal. He enobled the whole human race and gave us reason to hope in this life.

Then, to that statement, The Word was made flesh, John adds, and dwelt among us. Words are not wasted in this Gospel, and the significance of these is immense. In them, St. John encapsulates the life of Christ between his birth and his death.

The Son of God dwelt among us, growing and maturing just like you and I do. He ate, He slept, He played, He laughed, He cried, He stubbed His toe and banged His head, got stung by bees, and yelled at by strangers.

He sucked at His mother’s breast and was weaned. He soiled His baby clothes and was toilet trained. He went through puberty; His treble voice dropping an octave or two.

Through it all, He was tempted, just as we are. And just as His Incarnation consecrates our nature, His perfect, sinless life consecrates our life.

St. John continues, And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory (the glory as of the only begotten of the Father).

It is not enough to acknowledge this baby; not enough to celebrate the birth, nor even to believe. The devil believes in Jesus Christ. We have to fall on our knees and worship. We have to adore this baby, praise His Kingship, give thanks for His consecrating life and open our very souls to the life giving blessing of His precious death. And we have to give back to Him every cell in our body, every thought, every breath we take and ask Him to consecrate them to His service.

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

With the addition of these words, full of grace and truth, we may consider the Christmas message to be complete.

God came among us, renewing His creation. He dwelt among us, sanctifying every part of this earthly life with His life. His abundant Grace offers us His sustaining power in our weakness. We are never alone. God is always attentive to our cries for help. His light will always shine through the darkness to guide us. He gives us His truth to protect us from erring against the Holy laws of light. His truth is in His perfect example of human living and in the teachings of His ministry. And His grace and His Truth are made whole by His death upon the Cross

And the Word was made flesh. I said at the beginning of this sermon that this baby Jesus requires us to believe certain things about Him. Towards the end of the Gospel, St. John tells us why. Chapter 20 v.31, This was written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name.

May this precious baby, Redemption’s dawn, draw each of us to our knees before Him, in adoration, in worship, in humble acknowledgement of His glorious majesty; and in unclouded belief in His Redeeming Grace.

Peter Jardine+
Christmass Mass, 2005