Mark 1: 14-20

What kind of reaction do you think you’d meet if, on Monday, when you get to work or to the shops, you suggested to whoever you might bump into, that they should repent and believe the Good News?

My guess is that you wouldn’t want to repeat some of the answers which would probably come your way.

But, for Christians, this is one of the most important things that we’re called to do. So, if we want to be taken seriously, where do we start?

Well, some of you might have heard of a Church of England Bishop called Tom Wright. Bishop Tom was the Anglican Bishop of Durham and he’s now retired; but earlier in his church life he was chaplain to one of the Oxford colleges, and he used to make a point of meeting every new student at his college, just after the start of each academic year in October.

Bishop Tom was usually politely received, but he says that many students, after the pleasantries had been exchanged, would tell him that he wouldn’t be seeing much of them because they didn’t believe in God.

Tom would move the conversation on by saying something like :

“That’s interesting, which god don’t you believe in?”

And most of the answers would involve some kind of reference to an elderly man sitting on a cloud, surrounded by angels, and generally spoiling everybody’s day.

Tom would nod wisely and reply that this interested him because he didn’t believe in that god either. The way was then open for him to explain that the God he believed in was the God who was made visible through Jesus from Nazareth.

You see, it’s very difficult to talk about God in terms which can make sense to us with all of the limitations which are part and parcel of being a human being. How can we, as finite human beings, even begin to think about an infinite God, who must be beyond anything which we can imagine? What does that hymn say? “Immortal, invisible, God only wise; in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes.” That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it?

But we can understand another human being; and if that human being, in a wonderful and mysterious way, shares the life of God, we can begin to see what God is like as far as he can be revealed through a human life.

And that’s where Jesus comes in. If we want to know what God is like, in terms that we can understand, well then, we only need to look at Jesus.

Jesus was patient, gentle and kind. He accepted men and women just as they were. He didn’t turn his back on them because they came from the wrong side of the tracks. He didn’t look down on them because they mixed with the wrong people and got themselves into all kinds of bad situations.

Of course, he didn’t want men and women to stay in those situations, but he always accepted them, loved them and wanted to move them on. The New Testament is crammed with stories like this. Think of the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery. The Holy people wanted to put her to death and they tried to use her predicament to trap Jesus. But Our Lord didn’t condemn her; instead, he saved her and gave her back her dignity. Think of the stories which he told as well. The story about the prodigal son and the good Samaritan are just two.

We have no trouble in seeing the love, compassion and care which Jesus had for men and women everywhere; and of course, the Good News, the Gospel, is that this is just what God is like. Jesus forgave, accepted and loved. God forgives, accepts and loves, because just as Jesus said: “I am one with the Father.”

Religious people often try to gain brownie points with God by doing good deeds. They act as though God is some kind of stern Judge who can’t wait to punish us if we fail to step up to the mark. This is a tragedy because God just isn’t like that. We don’t need to be frightened of God. We don’t need to try to impress him with countless acts of charity and hours of religious observance. All we need to do is to accept that he loves us and has done everything that’s necessary in order that we can live with him for ever. And, of course, once we reach that conclusion, we begin to do those charitable things not because we want to be rewarded, but because we have accepted God’s love and just have to love him back.

Jesus announced this Good News to those Galilean fishermen two thousand years ago. It took a long time for them to grow into a full understanding of what he was telling them, but even at that early stage they were sufficiently attracted by his magnetic personality to begin the journey in faith.

Very few things in life happen out of a clear blue sky and I rather expect that the first followers of Jesus, had already heard him and seen him at work, perhaps for some while before they made a commitment to the request which we’ve just heard.

And it was as they followed him, as they listened to him and as they trusted him and tried to do as he asked, that they moved into a deeper understanding of the truth. The truth which Jesus spoke when he said:

“To have seen me is to have seen the Father”

Good News indeed. News which calls us to turn away from our false beliefs of what God is like and to realise that in Jesus the Kingdom of God is really made present. Good News which needs to grow more deeply within us, and which will enable us in our turn to become fishers of men too.

John 1: The Word made flesh

We don’t know at what time of the year the miracle at Bethlehem actually took place, but the Church Fathers were very wise. In their efforts to teach the faith to our heathen ancestors of this cold Northern Hemisphere they connected the birth of Jesus with the warmth and the goodwill which already existed in the midwinter pagan celebrations.

But no celebration can really explain the coming of God into the world of human beings. Only the Spirit-given words of St John, can tell of the eternal God, entering into human life with all of its difficulties.  So we need to look through the tinsel, and the nostalgia, in order to see the basic, yet amazing truth.

The time of waiting is over. God has come to his people as one of them.

St John spent a lifetime looking at, and thinking about, what he’d seen in the life of Jesus, his friend and his master, and he summed it up like this:

“The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

This Word, this power of God, that was responsible for the Universe, became embodied in a human being named Jesus. And John and others had known him not only as a builder, a friend and a prophet, but also as someone very special indeed. To be with him was like being in the presence of God. He was Immanuel, which means “God with us “.

Now, it might seem perverse if I remind you that Christmas will soon be over, almost before it’s yet begun. But that is indeed the case, and we shall soon move back into our daily routines.

Thoughts of Jesus, for many people, will be discarded with the used wrapping paper , and it will be all too easy to think that God has retreated back into the heavens where he  will remain, all boxed up, until we bring him out again in next December’s nativity scenes.

But St John tells us to remember that the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us. This Word, this Christ that was with God in the beginning, became something that we could grasp.

Christ the Word is certainly “up there “in heaven, but we must never forget that he is also “down here” on earth. And so we can see that Christ is dwelling with us still, if only we ask the right questions and look in the right places.  We can still see the Word made flesh for us today, but we must find ways of transforming our ordinary daily routines into channels of God’s truth.

Most of you will value the sacraments of the church, and if that is so then it’s but a simple step to see that we live in a universe which by its very nature is sacramental.  A sacrament brings into effect that of which it’s a sign, and because we’re created in the image of God, we should most clearly be able to see God in each other.

Just imagine how life would change if we made a special effort to treat all with whom we had to do as the image of God that they really are. Then we really would see the Word made flesh, and they would see the same Word made flesh in us too. Sometimes in human encounters of love, we experience special moments when something of God touches our life in a way which leaves us deeply moved. These sacred times are examples of Christ in heaven touching earth in our daily lives, and when we experience him “down here” like this, then we can say with St John that we have seen the Glory of God.

This Word, the glory of God is continually being made flesh and revealing God to us.

The darkness has not overcome the light and the Son who is close to God’s heart, continues to make himself known to us in the flesh.

May God bless us all with this revelation of his love for us this Christmas.