Our Rich Liturgical
Our Rich Liturgical Heritage: Christmas
by The Rt Revd Dr Peter Brain
The Christmas Day collect combines the sublime theology of the incarnation with God’s graceful purpose in sending his Son into the world. What God did in his world some 25 average lifetimes ago, he continues to do in the lives of millions of men and women, boys and girls. Both of these amazing interventions are supernatural and life changing.
Almighty God, you have given us your only Son to take our nature upon him and at this time to be born of a pure virgin: grant that we, being born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
We are the visited planet. There is no doubt from the gospel accounts that this all happened at a specific point in history, in a particular place and in the mix of world events (Luke 2:1-7 makes this especially clear). It was no mere spiritual manifestation of the living God, nor a visit only, but the unique, eternal and uncreated Son of God taking our humanity. He was fully God and fully man, as spelt out in the second part of the Athanasian Creed. The mundane and the heavenly combine so that we might know God, be forgiven by God and enjoy his presence in our lives. George Whitfield’s words ‘Jesus was God and man in one person, that God and man might be happy together again’, are full of challenge and comfort. Challenge because Christmas is a stark reminder that we are all by nature off-side with God. We either ignore him, as the Christmas Day gospel of John (1:10-11) reminds us, or we are content to remain his enemies as the apostle makes plain (Romans 5:6-11). In other words his coming was an urgent rescue operation, as the angel reminded Joseph with the words: ‘you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins’ (Matthew 1:21). These reminders will save us from the sentimental and trivial trappings of our celebrations.
The challenge is also found in the request: grant that we, being born again and made your children by adoption and grace. Lying behind this is the unhappy but utterly realistic truth that we are not only enemies but dead in our sins, and like corpses unable to move toward God. Jesus’s teaching ‘that we must be born again’ by the Holy Spirit (John 3:3-8), is confirmed by our experience of being drawn by God to put our trust in Jesus as our Saviour. God continues to work supernaturally in the lives of many to make them his children by adoption and grace. Here is the comfort and joy of the Christmas event. Enemies made friends. Sins dealt with as Jesus went to the Cross he came into the world for. With our nature, and our sins lovingly borne by him, he intentionally dealt with the consequences we deserve. Adoption is ours as we lay down our fancied merits, goodness and idols and receive him as our personal Lord and Saviour. But there is more.
The joyful journey has just begun. But not alone. So we pray that we may be daily renewed by your Holy Spirit. The very same Spirit who was responsible for our Lord’s incarnation, as we affirm: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became truly human, comes to give us new birth and a new nature so we too may be truly human as we allow him to transform us daily.
The Christmas event was a ‘one-off’ never to be repeated event, our new birth the starting point of real life, with our daily renewal continuing each and every day. Just as friends love to introduce their friends to each other we want to make this Friend known. He is so kind, so gentle, so radically different and life giving, we cannot but thank him for coming into the world, into our world, and open ourselves to his comforting presence and transforming Spirit.
Published in Messenger December 2021