Friday, December 25, 2015

Truth: A sermon for Christmas

Some words from that very familiar Gospel reading: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth”.  If you want a thread to help you understand St John’s Gospel, then you could do worse than to look at the way that truth appears in the Gospel from the beginning to the end.  The Gospel begins with the passage that we have just heard.  Here we learn of the true light which was coming into the world, and the grace and truth of the Word made flesh.  Truth remains a theme throughout the Gospel.  Near the end, Pontius Pilate asks Jesus ‘What is truth?’ as part of his trial. 

Truth is important to John’s Gospel, and so tonight I want to say three things about truth.  First about the truth shown in Jesus; second about truth as a life; and third about being witnesses to the truth.  First then, the truth shown in Jesus.  The whole thrust of the Gospel reading about the Word is that in Jesus, the Word made flesh, we see something of the whole way in which the world is made and ordered by God.  We are offered a lot of different ‘truths’ in our world: the truth that ‘money makes the world go round’; the truth that ‘might makes right’; the truth that ‘if it feels good, do it’ to name but a few.  The Word made flesh shows us that none of these are true.  It shows us the deep truth of reality, the Word that was in the beginning and through whom all creation came into being.  And it shows us this not in a place of power, or of wealth, but in a place that was on the margins, in poverty.  The Christmas story shows us all of this in the fragility of a baby whose life is threatened and who flees with his parents, becoming refugees in Egypt.  This is the truth that comes from above – and it is found in a child, a poor family, and in the flight of refugees.  If we are to be people of truth, we will need to align ourselves with this truth and to find truth in places and people who are marginal, poor, refugees, outcast.

So the first thing that the Christmas story has to tell us is that the deepest truth of the whole world is to be found in Jesus and in the places where Jesus is to be found.  The second thing that the Christmas story has to tell us about truth is that truth is something that has to be lived.  The whole of the Gospel of John is the story of a life – the life of Jesus – in which truth is found and opened up for all of us.  It is the truth of Jesus’ whole life that makes Pilate’s question ‘What is truth?’ sound so very shallow.  It is the truth of the whole of Jesus’ life that we find in the Gospel.

The Christmas story tells of many people making journeys to find the truth in Jesus.  The shepherds come all the way from the hills into the town; the Magi travel from distant lands.  Jesus calls his disciples to follow him, and teaches them as they move about.  And we too are called to follow, to learn the truth as we journey with Jesus through our lives.  We learn to see the truth, to tell the truth, and to live lives that are true.  Truth is not an abstract philosophical concept.  Rather truth is a life to live.  Truth needs to be made flesh in lives – in the life of Jesus, and in our lives as we follow Jesus.  As we follow Jesus, the truth becomes alive in us.

So the Christmas story tells us that the deepest truth of the whole world is to be found in Jesus, and that we learn that truth as we live lives that follow Jesus.  And the third thing that it tells us it that we are to bear witness to the truth.  Again we find this throughout the Gospel.  From beginning, where we are told John the Baptist ‘came to testify to the light’; to the end of the Gospel where Mary Magdalene is sent to tell the disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead.  The deepest truth of the world, and the life that shows this truth need witnesses to show them to a world that is in desperate need of the truth.

This is not about standing in the middle of the village and shouting at people.  It is about pointing to the truth in everything that we do and say; in the way that the church organises itself and lives and works together; in the way that we care for those in need.  The first reading this evening speaks of the beauty of the feet of the messenger who brings good news.  It goes on to speak of the sentinels lifting up their voices and singing for joy.  So too the angel announces to the shepherds ‘glad tidings of great joy’.  Our encounter with the deepest truth of the world, our following of the truth in the life of Jesus, leaves us with joy.  Joy is our witness.  This is not witness that has to be forced out of us, it is the joyful sharing of truth that is good news, glad tidings. 

The Christmas story tells us about truth – truth that is the deepest meaning of the world; truth that needs to be lived out – in the life of Jesus and in our lives as we follow Jesus; and truth that needs witnesses, and finds them in those who are filled with the joy of having encountered good news.  Deep meaning, lives to be lived, joyful witness – this is what we learn about truth.

So this Christmas, and in the weeks and months that follow, what can you do that will line yourself up with the deep truth of reality?; how will you live that out so that the truth is alive in you?; and where will you encounter the joy of good news that will make you a witness to the truth?

Let me finish with part of a poem by John Betjeman called Christmas:

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

May I wish you a very happy and truthful Christmas.  Amen.

First given at St Peter's, Parwich. Midnight Mass 24-25.12.15. 

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