A Card From God
My first Christmas morning as a new curate was largely spent
taking communion to housebound parishioners (I doubt that many curates
will be doing their rounds on Christmas mornings nowadays - times have
One of my flock was an old lady with family in Australia, and I had to
admire the card they had sent her. But while she was pleased with the
card, she admitted she would rather have been with them in person.
That struck me as a good parallel with the Christmas message. In the
past, God was a long way off and sent messages - like greetings cards -
through his servants the prophets. But now in Jesus he was coming in
person, "to visit and redeem his people".
I was sufficiently pleased by this idea to use it in several sermons -
especially when there were children present and a simple illustration was
needed. And I still think it is a neat way of encapsulating one version of
the Christmas message, for example that one which is exemplified in the
Bible by the Epistle to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Luke.
God is a distant figure, but in Jesus Christ he draws near, albeit to
withdraw again to heaven at the end of his life.
I now find myself increasingly dissatisfied with that version of
events. I find it harder as time goes by to imagine God ever having been
truly absent from the world. When things go badly - when there are wars
and rumours of wars, when there is hunger and famine and flood - it may
well seem to us as if God were absent. But I cannot make sense of
the idea that he is, or ever was, really absent.
So I find myself drawn more and more to an alternative understanding of
the significance of Christmas, an approach more typical perhaps of John's
gospel than Luke's.
In this version of the story, God-in-Christ is part of the very fabric
of the universe right from the start. Jesus is the "Word" of God by whom
all things were made, and without whom there was not anything made that
was made. All life has its being in him. All knowledge is acquired in his
So the problem facing the world today is not that God is absent. The
problem is that humans are often blind to his presence. The light shines in
the darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not. No awareness, no
understanding, no beholding his glory.
On this account, Christmas is not about a hitherto absent God coming
into the world, but about the bringing into the light - the bringing to
human awareness - of the abiding presence of God that has always been a
feature of his creation.
The Word was made flesh, not to make an absent God present, but to make
the always-present God publicly known, that we might behold his glory,
full of grace and truth.
And that is our task as Christians every day. Not to bring God where he
is absent, but to make his continuing presence known.
So let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works,
and glorify your father who is not only in heaven but also on the earth, for
all who have eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to love.