Isaiah 9:2-7, 52:7-10; John 1:1-14

I don’t know where he had got the idea from, but my brother vanished for hours one Christmas preparing a surprise. Once or twice he tiptoed into the kitchen, then crept away carrying a cake tin and other objects, until finally, tooting a fanfare and flicking the lights on and off a few times, he made his grand entrance wearing mum’s best black skirt over his shoulders like a cloak, then strode to centre stage, called for silence, and improvising with everyday objects performed a series of magic tricks. We were spellbound, as was the cat watching the way a pencil became his wand that slid back and forth through his hands on command. Try though I may, (even attaching an elastic band to the eraser end with a bent paper clip), I still cannot make a pencil dance, and at seventy years of age, my brother still won’t reveal the secret, the spoilsport! Or perhaps not—maybe some things are meant to remain a mystery, arousing our curiosity and inviting us to use our creativity and imagination to go places or consider possibilities we might never explore otherwise. Take the strange stories about the birth of Jesus, the Word made flesh—the Light of the world who revealed Gods glory—what does it all mean, and how can ordinary people become children of God by believing, I wonder?

Magic? All over the city bus-shelter ads say this Christmas believe in magic. As a marketing ploy to sell pop, it capitalizes on our hopes or longings for something special to happen, or perhaps to feel special—to be special, playing on fantasies of battling the dark side as wizards and elf lords who always have a few tricks up their sleeves, or Jedi who hone their natural gifts by learning how to open themselves to the force. Even if this is not your style, hold onto your dreams of being able to do amazing things, amazing good—because you can, because you are special, believe me! You may not know how to cast spells or handle a light-sabre—no need, we don’t have to fake it using smoke and mirrors or fancy special effects, we don’t need to play-act or pretend to be something we are not. Just be yourself. That is what Jesus did—he lived and died as one of us, was born like us, yet he revealed the Glory of God—God’s love, God’s presence and peace, showing us that we can too by being loving and true to ourselves. Irenaeus said: the Glory of God is a person who is fully alive, not just marking time, or going through the motions, as so many do. What’s the secret? For a start, we need to accept we don’t know everything, so be willing to journey into heart of the great Unknown or Mystery called God.

But be warned, this is a journey that has changed millions of lives, and can change yours, if it hasn’t already. Taught to question everything in a society that treats skepticism as a virtue, it takes courage to suspend disbelief and objections long enough to penetrate the barriers of doubt we create that prevent us entering the spiritual realm, or progressing along that path. But if you want to, if you dare, take a few deep breaths, relax, and gently put aside other thoughts and distractions because we cannot be in two places at once. Now, let’s join all those people from the beginning of time who have suspected there is more to life—folk like shepherds and scholars who have gone in search of something that would shine a new light on things to help them see things differently, see things they had never seen before, or like the light at the end of a tunnel, give them fresh hope and brighter prospects. Some have sought the answer in the stars, in philosophies, secular ideals, sacred objects—but tonight we join those who found the answer in Someone special who opened the path to new life, new possibilities, even peace—the one some called the Messiah, some called the Son of God and many call Jesus, the Christ—he’s gone by many names because he is many different things to different people. St. John called him the Word.

The Word? Brilliant—what a tantalizing way to invite us into the heart of the Mystery, calling the One who words cannot describe, the Word—the One who like a keyword can unlock the door to our own mystery, our hearts—the Word, that takes all the catchwords we use to describe what makes us tick, like love, fairness and curiosity to name three of mine, bringing them all together, binding us together with the wisdom of the universe, the Word. What a profoundly simple way to describe whoever, whatever makes it possible for us to communicate and therefore relate to others. Touch can say a lot, but the Word, that basic building block of language, gives us the power to say so much more—to express ideas, our feelings, our hopes and fears, our needs, our help and encouragement—the Word lets us name things and people who are not present, helping us call them to mind, share images, create conversation. So powerful is the Word, as a means of communicating wisdom and love, that sages of old, trying to find a way to describe how everything began, said that …in the beginning God called the heavens and earth and all that’s in them into being out of the chaos, by speaking the creative word, naming and blessing them, saying: It is good. I believe some of that creative brilliance built into our brains inspired those priestly sages to put together the words of the great creation poems in Genesis, to help us appreciate the scope and sequence of events that scientists call evolution and continue to probe for answers, while we can ponder the words and still treasure the wonders of nature.

Sadly, over time, left to itself, left to ourselves it has not all been good. By whatever forces were at play—natural, human or otherwise, destruction, death and decay also became a reality, and for those affected and dealing with these realities, darkness descended, at least that seems to be the most universal way of describing what drives people to despair—yet not all. Some watched and waited for a new dawn, for with the light of a new day comes hope. Some who believed in a divine source of goodness were blessed with visions of a better world, while others finally saw the light when they encountered someone special who lived and died as one of us, yet demonstrated how the power of love can make all the difference. Not everyone was impressed. At the time, many religious people had a job accepting that God’s power and presence could be revealed by a mere man, no matter how good and wise and brave he was, if he didn’t fit their expectations as the Messiah. Today, many non-religious folk who deny that such divine goodness exists, so cannot take that decisive step of faith, are still drawn to epic fantasies that capture the battle we all have with the conflicts we face like the feelings or temptations at war within us, or with others. Call it the dark side, shadow self, or whatever conveys the opposite to love and kindness. Pity those who secretly cast themselves as heroes, as well as those who feel overwhelmed by the real wars and woes of the world we live in, find it hard to believe that belief is the secret to being fully alive—belief in the ultimate power of goodness and love, belief that Jesus fleshed it out proving how that power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. That’s the secret: belief—believing in ourselves, in others and our ability to make changes with God’s help. Fantasies can be fun and the best ones give us something to chew on —maybe a taste for greater purpose and meaning in life, or a yearning for spiritual maturity and possibilities it offers. Magic? Maybe it looks like that because when you feel fully alive it’s amazing how wonderful even the ordinary seems. This Christmas believe… there’s no trick to it we can all do it, but like Jedi, like Jesus we have to practice. Want to begin? Just say the Word.