Almighty God, who wonderfully created us in your own image and yet more wonderfully restored us through your Son Jesus Christ: grant that, as he came to share in our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights.
2Praise him, all you his angels;
praise him, all his host.
3Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you stars of light.
4Praise him, heaven of heavens,
and you waters above the heavens.
5Let them praise the name of the Lord;
for he commanded and they were created.
6He made them fast for ever and ever;
he gave them a law which shall not pass away.)
7Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps;
8Fire and hail, snow and mist,
tempestuous wind, fulfilling his word;
9Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars;
10Wild beasts and all cattle,
creeping things and birds on the wing;
11Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the world;
12Young men and women,
old and young together;
let them praise the name of the Lord.
13For his name only is exalted,
his splendour above earth and heaven.
14He has raised up the horn of his people
and praise for all his faithful servants,
the children of Israel, a people who are near him.
Samuel was ministering before the LORD—a boy wearing a linen ephod. Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the LORD give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the LORD.” Then they would go home. And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favour with the LORD and with men.
1 Samuel 2.18–20,26
As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.
Sermon on First Sunday of Christmass
I would like to consider the substance of our collect prayer for today. We have prayed, “Almighty God, who wonderfully created us in your own image and yet more wonderfully restored us through your Son Jesus Christ: grant that, as he came to share in our humanity, so we may share the life of his divinity.”
Does this prayer really make sense to us who live in this age of science and demythologised religion? In other words, does this make sense to us contemporary Anglicans? Do we really understand that we are created in the image of God? Or more fundamentally that God has had a hand in our very creation, that God has formed us in our mother’s womb and fashioned our very sinews? And then the question arises, what is our ultimate goal? I would suggest that we are face to face with the thorny theological problem of original sin and how humanity stands before the abyss. The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church places humanity outside of the Garden of Eden where there was a holy innocence, but points us on to heaven where there is salvation.
Our prayer accepts the fall of humanity from this ‘wonderfully created image’ into the mortality of sin. However, I wonder who really believes original sin is his or her ownmost reality. Finally in our prayer there is the assurance that we have been redeemed in such a miraculous manner so that the corrupt image within us, so defaced by sin in our very generation, has been restored to the true image of the divine in the event of Easter. The whence and whither of life is the heart of our thoughts as the new year begins.
The philosopher once described human life as “brutish and short”: we do have lives into which we are thrown with no explanation. I am sure we remember our teenage years, when we were exploring the meaning of life ever so privately. It was the time when we explored religion and our connection with any transcendent reality. Some of our contemporaries gave up on organised religion. Some did not. We were all confused, weren’t we? We had to make sense of life, and we felt so all alone. Life was certainly brutish. We were thrown into the welter of life, wondering about “where it was all at”.
We still have no “user’s manual” for life – we are just supposed to make all the right decisions. Or, so it would seem if we were to accept popular culture as a cue to the map of the world we inhabit. However, I don’t believe that. Do you think we have to stumble in life, bouncing from one situation to another, fumbling for the right decisions?
After all, if we are created in this divine image, how can we do anything badly? But on the other hand, if we are incarnate in a sinful body and mind, how are we to do anything well? These are the horizons of the maelstrom into which each human being is thrown. We founder in the storm of choices we must make – we have so much around us distracting us as we search for a way out of the terror of life.
I would like to suggest that Christmass is one of those events guiding us in the chaos of life. As the Feast of the Incarnation, it comes to our rescue to create a symbolic cosmos, where we find answers to the imponderables of the “whence and whither” of human existence. In Christmass we find the perfect expression of the divine becoming flesh just like us, don’t we? That is what all of our carols tell us, don’t they? Time and again we sing that we want to be like the child in the manger, meek and mild, obedient and good. We want so desperately to proclaim Joy to the World because the Lord has come. Today’s symbolic representation is presented in our reading from the gospel. It shows us the Chist-child in his father’s temple, that temple wherein we ourselves should dwell. For aren’t we just like the man Jesus, stranded in life making our way to God?
On reading this collect, the existential dilemma each one of us experiences has been drawn to the front of my mind, for here we are in the temple contemplating the human condition. I feel we are compelled to go to first principles as we consider the Feast of the Incarnation. I have to be honest with myself as I contemplate life, the universe and everything.
I became a human being with my birth. I was thrown into a world where I must choose the right and the good. I stand alone at the abyss without a user’s manual, but I have hope. I hope to live a good life. But how?
We always come back to the philosopher who has set the existential dilemma in front of us in the prosaic language of choosing the right course of action. His considerations, I feel, are reflected in our religious language. In the gospel we are set the mystery of Jesus innocently asking Mary and Joseph this question, ‘shouldn’t I be in the temple, “my father’s house”’? The question of the wherein we dwell confronts us starkly as we read this biblical passage and apply it to life as we know it. Do we dwell in the house of the Lord? Or do we sully our nature by immersing ourselves in the bloody filth of sinfulness, that life so far distant from the good and the right, that an angel bars our way back to it?
The prophets have always stood with us in this desert in which we find ourselves. They stand right by us in the decisions we make on the brink. We are in a wilderness and we have to see whether the tradition of prophets and religion makes sense to each one of us individually. I am convinced that we want to tread the path to glory, to release the grace within, to become that image of the divine fully human. This, I think, is the mystery of incarnation.
By being fully human, I become fully divine, all accomplished through grace.
I suppose Paul has expressed what this human divinity or divine humanity really is – “Over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Paul has given us a hint as to what the divine is in our daily lives in these few words. Let Paul provide some direction in the chaos of the new year’s eve.