St Stephen Lewisham
Christmas Day 2015
What do you think of Christ?
One of the best things about speaking English is that you can change the order of words, and still say the same thing without being grammatically incorrect; whereas in French, if you get the words in the wrong order, your teacher uses his red pencil to highlight your mistake, and French people will know you’re a foreigner. But in English, it’s just as correct to say “I went to Bromley yesterday” as “Yesterday I went to Bromley”.
But that’s not always so: the changing of a single word or word-order can make a lot of difference. Ask people who Jesus Christ is, and most will say “He’s the Son of God”; but some will answer “He is God the Son”.
It may seem at first sight that there’s little difference between the two statements. Both are scriptural. But dig a little deeper into what they mean and you’ll find that they’re often describing two very different beliefs.
For many people – including some Christians – saying “He’s the Son of God”, means no more than that Jesus was a human being like us – although He had a lot of useful and interesting things to tell us about God and His will for us; and that He was someone who lived a very good moral life as an example for us all to follow.
But when we say “He is God the Son” we mean something infinitely more than that. We’re saying that we believe He existed from before creation; that He took part in its design; that He was born of a Virgin and had no human father; that He took our nature upon Himself in order He might reconcile us to His Heavenly Father; that He was executed on the Cross by the same people God had chosen for Him to be incarnate among; that He rose from the dead two days later; that He ascended to Heaven; and that He will, sooner or later, return in glory to judge the living and the dead – in short, it means everything we say whenever we recite the Creed.
Jesus made all these claims about Himself; and Christians have ever since believed and professed them; but – and it’s a big ‘BUT’ – you only have to compare the two statements with one another and it becomes blindingly obvious that what many people today mean by “Jesus is the Son of God” is something completely different from what Christians, such as ourselves, have meant down the ages when we say “He is God the Son”.
So perhaps we should consider using the phrase “Son of God” rather sparingly in public – and let me explain why. Soon after Jesus Christ’s Ascension, the Christian Church had to deal with two kinds of false belief about Jesus Christ. One belief, called the Gnostic, is that everything material, including the human body is totally evil; so the Gnostics believed that Jesus, being perfect, couldn’t have been perfect and have had a human body, but simply appeared to have one. In other words Jesus wasn’t truly a Man but a disembodied Spirit.
The other false belief, which was put about by a priest named Arius, was that Jesus wasn’t really God, but merely very God-like – an angel perhaps, or just an exceptionally good man. That’s what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe today. The problem with that is that Jesus actually claimed to be “One with the Father”, and the first Christians had worshipped Jesus as God the Son, and had sung hymns to both of them.
So for us the Gnostic problem is that if Jesus had no material body He couldn’t be said to be truly Man, because he was lacking one of the things that humans have in common – namely a body – and therefore he cannot be said to be “like us in all things”: He’s must be a different kind of Being altogether. Whereas the trouble with Arius’s view is that if someone claims to be God (when he isn’t) he must be either mad, or bad (or both); and nobody in their senses would want to associate with such a person, let alone worship him.
Christmas teaches us that Jesus is both True God and True Man in one Person. As a Baby lying in the manger he was certainly born as a human being in the same way that we are. But that Baby, whom the Shepherds, Wise Men and Angels (and eventually the whole Church-on-earth) worshipped and adored, is so much more than just the Good Teacher which many people today imagine Him to be. He is in fact the “Word made Flesh, Who lived on Earth and whose glory we recognize as being the Fullness of Grace and Truth”, as St John says in this morning’s Gospel. From all eternity the Word is Who He has always been: God Almighty.
HOLY SMOKE !
First, I’d explain that Verdant Lane
Lies not beyond the Styx,
But may be found near well-trod ground
In Catford, SE6.
I pass that way most every day
Beside that great emporium,
Where ends the strife of many a life –
The local Crematorium.
What's in a name? It's all the same
Whatever mankind calls them:
The Whisp’ring Glades, the House of Shades,
One fate alike befalls them.
Quite so. But wait! – For at the gate
Outside our local Crem.
Some vandal bright one dead of night
Ripped off the letter ‘M’
With lightning speed he wrought the deed,
At one fell stroke from House of Smoke
Into a CRE ATORIUM!
Since that’s a word you won’t have heard
I’ll parse it now, not later
It means “The place where, face-to-face,
Man meets his own Creator!”
And once before, the days of yore
Saw such a transformation:
A stable mean became the scene
Of heav’nly Incarnation.
Be not dismayed by death’s dark shade,
But hail the silent Birth-Day:
Let ancient rhyme describe that time:
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