“There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle
When Paul talks about how God “has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son”, he’s not talking about a God who magically lifts us out of whatever mess we find ourselves in, but one who gets stuck into all life’s mess and complexity with us. This isn’t God as superhero, but #GodWithUs, God deeply and compassionately with us. This is the Good News that we have a God who ‘gets it’, gets what it is to be human, to struggle, to hurt, to laugh, to love.
The great change brought about by the incarnation is that the divine becomes human, and so the human can be recognised as divine.
Every aspect of human life is touched by God – “life in all its fullness”.- our laughter, our tears, our fears, our anger, our hopes, our complicated, messy relationships. All of it. Jesus comes to give us life in all its fullness, and to call us recognise in all the fullness of life something of God,
That’s not always easy to do, of course. We have a very human tendency to categorise things, and all too often people. Good. Bad. Naughty. Nice. Worthy. Unworthy. And yet, we know that isn’t how God sees things – in Jesus even the boundary between humanity and divinity is destroyed. How then can any other boundaries remain?
Even as we try to do the right thing, to be just and compassionate, it’s very tempting to start putting things (and people) into boxes. It’s often easier to be sympathetic at a distance, to help ‘those people over there’, and ignore the needs of those closest to us, or our own needs. It’s all too easy to dress up what God calls us to do in fancy language, and be so busy looking for the next ‘missional opportunity’, that we fail to notice the person right in front of us.
We can come up with all the strategies and resolutions and plans we like, but in the end it really isn’t that complicated (which isn’t to say it’s easy – far from it). Jesus calls us to be a church that ‘gets stuck in’. Pope Francis wrote: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” Challenging words. God is a God who in the incarnation ‘gets stuck in’ to all the messiness of what it is to be human and, in the very person of Jesus as well as in his words, calls us to do likewise.
Isaiah in our first reading proclaims not only the first coming of Jesus (as we have heard throughout advent) but also the second coming, the realisation of God’s kingdom on earth.
I wonder what New Years Resolutions we might make which promote the realisation of God’s kingdom on earth? In our local communities, our families, our homes, our church, – not by grand schemes but getting stuck in’ in all the little ways which – together – change lives, and turn the world upside down.
The truth of the incarnation, God made flesh, God with us, is that God works through people is this: There is nobody and no circumstance too lowly or too ordinary for God. There is no human situation, no part of the human condition, in which God is not present. God works through people – little, ordinary people – to redeem all things and draw all people back to the God who created them. It is the calling of the church – of each of us – see what God is doing, and get stuck in, whatever form that takes, and whatever words we use (or don’t use) to describe it.
“There is nothing so secular it cannot be sacred”, nothing so human it cannot be divine, nobody so human, so lowly, so flawed and broken that they do not contain the image of God. In a stable long ago, very ordinary people recognised God in the very ordinary stuff of human life. God is still here, still present in the mess and muddle of our human lives. The realisation of that, of God made just as human, as fragile, as vulnerable as we are, will change our lives if we’ll let it, as we learn to recognise God in ourselves, in each other, in whatever mess we find ourselves in.
Each year, as we hear again the familiar Christmas story, and reflect on the year that is ending and the one about to start, we have a fresh chance to consider how this deep truth of the incarnation touches our lives now. Where is God in this mess, this muddle? Where, in this ordinary little bit of human life which I find myself in right now, is the glory of God? May God give us eyes to see and ears to hear the sacred presence of God in every ordinary human thing, this Christmas and always.