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25 December John chapters 19-21
I am sure it cannot be coincidence that the reading for Christmas Day is the last three chapters of John’s gospel, which cover the death and resurrection of Christ. The people who planned this year-long programme of Bible readings must have arranged it like that, and for a good reason.
Our priest at this morning’s Christmas communion service started his sermon by talking about the Yorkshire tradition of eating cheese with sweet foods – salty blue Stilton with mince pies, creamy Wensleydale with Christmas fruit cake. He linked this odd, but actually very tasty, combination of tastes to the fact that within the last week before Christmas, when the church is looking forward to the joy of the Nativity, and the world is celebrating in its own pleasure-seeking way, the church leaders and musicians have been planning the music for services in Lent and Holy Week.
It may seem strange reading about the death and resurrection of Christ, or planning solemn music for the season when we particularly remember those events, just when the focus should be on his birth. But there are good reasons for doing so.
We cannot understand the birth of Jesus into the world unless we think also of the crucifixion. Nor can we understand the crucifixion without believing in the resurrection. For that was the whole point of his birth. The way God rescues us from the consequences of our own sin is to take those sins upon himself and suffer the consequences – separation from God, mental agony, physical torture, and death. But that was not the end of the story – the resurrection proved that the sinless one was stronger than sin and death and would live for ever.
Even at the time Jesus was dedicated as a baby, it was prophesied about him that he would be the cause of the “falling and rising of many in Israel”, and of Mary his mother it was said “a sword will pierce your own heart also”. Throughout the last year or so of his life, Jesus had tried many times to explain to the disciples that his death – and subsequent resurrection – were absolutely part of God’s plan for him, and could not be avoided without wrecking the plan.
There is a line in a Christmas carol that says “man shall live for evermore because of Christmas Day”. It sounds good, but it is not good theology. It would be more accurate – if less poetic – to say “man shall live for evermore because of Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Day”. But we can make a concession – as the timeless God came into our world in the form of a time-bound human being, birth had to come before death. Without Christmas there could be no Easter. And without Mary’s willing acceptance of God’s will there could have been no Christmas. Therefore we say with her, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”.
Merry Christmas to all readers.