3 January 2021: God’s Christmas Invasion

The Very Rev’d Frank Nelson

Jeremiah 31:7-14

Psalm 147:12-20

Ephesians 1:3-14

John 1:10-18

The extraordinary claim of Christmas is that God has invaded the world. St Luke pretties up the story by offering an elderly couple whose son is called John, an unmarried woman falling pregnant after a visit by an angel, a journey for an unpopular census, a lack of accommodation, angels in the sky and shepherds in the fields. St Matthew gives us a jealous king prepared to go to great lengths to stay in power, wise men on long journeys with exotic gifts, and sudden panic as a young family flee into exile in a foreign and strange land. But it is St John, in the opening chapter of his Gospel, who makes the really outrageous claim that the Word ‘became flesh and lived among us’. God has invaded the world and everything changes.

But unlike the invasion experience of Australia’s First Nation people, the Russian tanks pouring into Hungary in 1956, or Saudi backed forces moving into Yemen in 2015, the Christmas invasion is somewhat different. Instead of wanting to kill and destroy, to seize and to claim as theirs what belongs to others, God’s Christmas invasion is one of astonishing generosity. The gift given is the Giver. The Word became flesh.

Today’s first reading, a snippet of Jeremiah chapter 31, a chapter probably best known for verse 33 and the mention of a new covenant written on the hearts of the people, offers an exciting perspective of this invasion by God. Come with me as we look more closely at Jeremiah 31:7-14.

The context is one of exile. We know well the build-up to the invasion by Nebuchadnezzar and his armies. Many times in our day, singers and pop groups have taken one of the great laments of Exile, Psalm 137, and turned it into a money-making venture in the music industry. ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ are the opening words of a psalm which captures the deadly devastation of exile, the silent hopelessness of those far from home, the shattered dreams, hopes and plans, the loneliness, the anger and the desire to blame and seek revenge.

Into this context Jeremiah thrusts the words of today’s reading. Remarkably the poetry, even in translation, holds true and a glimpse of God’s invasion is offered to us. It begins with an invitation to raise a great song of gladness, praise and joy – something exiled Israel never thought to be able to do again. There follows a series of action statements of what God will do – bring, gather, lead, let them walk by ‘brooks of water’. This last echoes the sentiment of Psalm 23 – the good shepherd leading her flocks through danger to the still, cool, fresh water. It’s a picture of safety where no stumbling occurs. And who are the objects of this invasion? Why – the blind and the lame, those with child, those in tears. Here is the great pilgrimage home of those who never thought to get home again. (I can’t help thinking of the tens of thousands of Australians who, in recent months, have managed to return home from virus ravaged parts of the world.)

But the vision of God’s invasion is not over yet and the prophet continues. Verse 10 opens with a call to the nations, the world at large, to hear, to take notice. These returning exiles are coming into a new world – a world where creation will once again flourish (the grain, the wine, the oil), and where the young can dance and make merry as social life resumes. “I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow,’ says the Lord. God’s invasion means it’s party time – both for the created world with its abundant crops and running water; and the people, the former exiles, once again held in the loving arms of God and able to reach out to one another in joy and celebration.

While Jeremiah speaks his poetry into the context of exile, the Gospel writers tell of the birth of Jesus into a dark world of invasion, occupation, suspicion and hardship for the poorest. The good news of Jesus’s birth is hailed by angels singing “Glory”, by shepherds hastening to visit the child, the magi bringing exotic and extravagant gifts, and the light bursting into the darkness. Jesus the Saviour, Emmanuel God with us, the Word which is the life and light of the world – this is God’s invasion.

Just ten days after Christmas, with another few to go before Epiphany, and three days into a new year, can today’s readings, particularly that from Jeremiah, offer us anything for 2021? It’s not difficult to make connections between the Exile of which Jeremiah spoke and the year that is past. The devastating bushfires, the crashing of the markets and closing of borders as the world shut down, the first then second then third waves of virus, the rising temperatures and sea levels, the drought followed by floods, the cruelly crushed holiday plans and empty arms longing for human touch.

In our context can we hear God’s word, see God’s action, share in God’s invasion? Are we able to look back and see the hand of God at work – even, perhaps especially, in the darkest of days? I wonder what your hopes and dreams for 2021 are?

Good friends of ours in the UK posted their New Year message on Facebook. I’d like to finish by reading their post and inviting you to take some time to notice God’s Christmas invasion of our lives.

Chich and Gill write:

Wishing all our family and friends everything that’s good in 2021.
Hoping for vaccines that get us all out of the pandemic, and thankful for all the good that has come out of these sad months. From traffic calming allowing us to hear birdsong, long walks in beautiful surroundings, opportunities to serve in small ways. For those we’ve walked alongside, online or socially distanced. For opportunities to pray for many others and for their prayers, we are grateful. Thanks for healthcare and all frontline workers.
Looking forward to a greener future as we build a sustainable world for our children and grandchildren and praying for health and peace for all.

Today’s Collect

Almighty God, you have filled us with the light of the Word, who became flesh and lived among us: let the light of faith shine in all that we do; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.