SERMON: Today, God has revealed his face to us in Christ

SERMON: Today, God has revealed his face to us in Christ

A sermon preached online at St Mary’s Iffley by Andrew McKearney on Christmas Day 2020.

          ‘O that you would tear open the heavens

          and come down,

          so that the mountains would quake at your presence,

          as when fire kindles brushwood

          and the fire causes water to boil.’

The prophet Isaiah’s cry to God finds an echo in all hearts and at all times:

          ‘O that you would tear open the heavens

          and come down.’

It’s a cry for God to reveal his face to us, a plea for God to bear his holy arm.

Throughout Advent, as we’ve been preparing for Christmas, we’ve been listening to that cry and giving voice to that plea.

The Great Advent ‘Os’ that Roger Wagner has been reflecting on for us:

          O Wisdom, come!

          O Dayspring from on high, come!

          O Emmanuel, come!

That same cry has been on our lips in the hymns we’ve sung:          Come, thou long-expected Jesus!

This cry has shaped the lives of God’s people and still does: Maranatha! Come!

At our last vicarage we had a window cleaner who kept homing pigeons. At weekends he would take his pigeons hundreds of miles away and release them, and incredibly the pigeons always found their way back home, no matter how far away they’d been released.

We may push God away; we may sometimes feel distant from God; we may even feel that God has packed his bags and gone back to heaven.

But Christmas tells us that God is never far away. God came to us, comes to us and keeps coming to us to make his home with us.

You could describe God as the one who comes.

There are invaluable things about this way of referring to God as the one who comes. I want to highlight just two.

Firstly, to talk of God coming to us suggests that important quality of gift in our relationship with God. God is the giver and we are the recipients.

And faith is less about us trying to generate a sense of God’s presence in us, and more about us being open to receive God’s presence as gift.

This theme runs though the nativity stories that both Luke and Matthew give us.

Take the annunciation to Mary and also the dream we heard being given to Joseph; in both Mary is said to be with child from the Holy Spirit.

Christ is the gift of God’s self.

Secondly, to think of God as the one who comes to us, acknowledges that our experience of God is incomplete, partial. We cry out for God to come because our spiritual experience is one of deficit or shortfall.

The poet George Herbert expresses this well in his poem ‘The Pulley.

          When God at first made man,

          Having a glass of blessings standing by,

          Let us (said he) pour on him all we can:

          Let the world’s riches, which dispersed lie,

          Contract into a span.

          So strength first made a way;

          Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:

          When almost all was out, God made a stay,

          Perceiving that alone of all his treasure

          Rest in the bottom lay.

          For if I should (said he)

          Bestow this jewel also on my creature,

          He would adore my gifts instead of me,

          And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:

          So both should losers be.

          Yet let him keep the rest,

          But keep them with repining restlessness:

          Let him be rich and weary, that at least,

          If goodness lead him not, yet weariness

          May toss him to my breast.

To talk of God as the one who comes, keeps us grounded in our frail, faltering humanity.

Listen to Isaiah acknowledging this at the conclusion to this morning’s passage:

          ‘Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;

          we are the clay, and you are our potter;

          we are all the work of your hand.’

Advent is over; the waiting is ended.

Today, God has torn open the heavens and come down.

Today, the cry of our hearts has been heard.

Today, God has revealed his face to us in Christ.

Happy Christmas!