First Communion of Christmas 2021
Last week Kim and I watched the finals of the professional Masterchef series. The three finalists were Liam, Dan and Aaron: all of them talented chefs who have worked in Michelin starred restaurants. In my mind Liam was the front runner even though he was the youngest of the three contestants. Aaron produced some classic British meals – all of them with the ‘twist’ that the competition demands, the newspapers tell me that he used to cook for Richard Branson on the British Virgin Islands. Dan was a curious mix of Birmin-Gham and Singapore: he always gave himself too much to do…and then managed to deliver the goods.
I like the show: Marcus Wareing adds professional weight to the opinion of Greg Wallace, and Monica Galetti brought some much-needed TLC as the show dealt some harsh truths to contestants who fell by the wayside. A phrase that reoccurs in the programme however is the judges’ request that the chefs ‘show their personalities’ through the food they present. The dishes set before them are to be much more than food for the stomach – the expectation is that they will ‘tell a story’. In the final Liam, Dan and Aaron were expected to show who they were in the plate on the table.
It was the same last Saturday with the Strictly Come Dancing Final: John and Johannes versus Rose and Giovanni. As that competition progresses the dancers develop beyond simply ‘learning the steps’ and a moment comes when they start to ‘live’ through the dance itself. For most of the competition John was forever being told that he was ‘holding something back’ in his performances. Not so on the night of the final either for him of for Rose. Both came to the competition with their ‘story’: John – a gay man- dancing as part of a same sex couple. Rose, profoundly deaf and wanting to represent the deaf community as best she could.
As the trophy was awarded and the final comments were made by both judges and contestants Johannes spoke of the importance of ‘being seen’: that the competition had enabled he and John to be recognised for who they were free from all the trauma of their upbringing and the homophobia they had experienced. Shirley Ballas, praising Rose’s immense achievements stood up from her seat and, pointing at her said: ‘I saw you’ in your dance, Anton Dubek couldn’t even look at her he had been so moved by what he had witnessed.
So here’s the thing as we hear and try to make sense of the Christmas story. If a person, a chef, can show who they are in a plate of food set before the Masterchef judges?; if what matters to them (their personality, their passion and love) can be seen their choice of ingredients, their sense of risk and attention to detail on a plate served in a restaurant – it should not surprise us that God can be perfectly revealed within creation, in the life of a human being? Can He not show Himself to us in whatever way He chooses?
If we believe we can see to the core of an individual in the way that they dance …or sing…or write … or compose…or speak for that matter, surely there is no the difficulty in believing that the unseen God can be seen most perfectly in this world, and most especially in that part of creation that the scriptures say is made ‘in His image’: in humanity?
Christians claim that the nature of God is most perfectly expressed in one man: Jesus. ‘He is the image of the invisible God’ says the writer to the Hebrews. God is seen ‘in the face of Jesus Christ’ says St. paul. We’re asked to look, that’s all. Look here. Look at this child. Look at this young man. Look at His life. Hear his words, see not just what He does but how He does it? See how he responds to those on the edges of his community. Notice how he deals with hurt and betrayal, with rejection and death itself. See His faith and His love, His courage, His passion and compassion.
Look and see with new eyes. And wonder. Wonder that 2000 years on people all over the world are declaring this child, this man to be God of God, Light of Light. Why? Because we have seen Him…not with our eyes but with our hearts. ‘We beheld His glory, Glory of a Father’s only Son, full of grace and Truth.’ And as we gaze on Him He moves us: we are changed because of who He is, what He has done and what he has shown us of the heart of God.
The seeing that we are called to is more properly an act of perception, of understanding and connection. Not everyone sees…though all can. Not everyone saw the angels or heard their message. Only a few followed the star to the house where he lay. But to those who believed in His name he gave power to become children of God – something shifted in who they understood themselves to be: they became family…part of God’s immense, wonderful, diverse, family.
So what do you see tonight as we celebrate this ‘First Communion of Christmas’? We cannot but notice the beauty of this place, its decorations, the atmosphere they create, the warmth of the music we sing, the well-worn traditions encapsulated in the words we say and hear together. But can you see beneath and within these things– God, present, here amongst us? Within us, between us, speaking to us through His Word, offering His welcome and forgiveness, inviting us to His table, resting in our hands as we receive Him again through the bread and wine of communion? God here. This night.
God’s glory is so great, so bright, that perhaps it can only be seen beneath and within the things of this world, if it were not hidden it would overwhelm us – but on this night the stable door opens, the veil between heaven and earth parts and we see afresh Love come down at Christmas, and seeing we are made anew.
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