Many of us we know what it is like to be part of a city that is burning. The terror as flames loom on the horizon. The stress of waiting. To feel the weight of loss and grief.
And so this day our hearts go out to those around the country who are facing this reality; as well as those who have already faced it and experienced its ferocity, it’s devastation. We think too of those who return home each night, blackened by smoke and embers from fighting fires, too exhausted to be present to those they love.
We are people of the light, and at Christmas time we celebrate and remember that hope came as a vulnerable child, bringing light into the darkness. And traditionally we light this candle to remind us that hope.
But right now, our land is bone dry and burning. And so this morning we remember that Jesus also comes to heal and renew. Our hope is for the healing balm of water, to quench our thirsty land and extinguish the fires and once again, renew the creation.
READINGS: Psalm 8 & John 1:1-14
REFLECTION: Our reading from the gospel of John contains some of the most difficult theological assertions of the Christian faith. It asks us to believe in the unbelievable notion that God became human; Immanuel, God with us.
More than that, it claims that Jesus existed before time began, before anything else existed. And so, John’s Gospel begins, not at Jesus’ conception or manger, but at the very conception of the cosmos.
Echoing the first words of the Hebrew bible, the writer of John claims that Jesus was “in the beginning….”
Within this claim lies another profound message from these stories – incarnation. Literally, the taking on of flesh. God taking on flesh and becoming one of us. Not only does God come among us, but we are incorporated into the sacredness of God – to be God-like and so be an active part of God’s good news in our world.
When we accept that we are part of God’s good news in our world, in our communities and families, we begin to see that we can play a part in bringing compassion, peace, and justice into the world.
Christmas day then is not so much a birthday celebration for the baby Jesus, as it is a call to each one of us to take on the responsibility of being God-like: of being compassionate, peace-filled, and justice seeking, loving and fully alive.
Although this reading is regularly set down for Christmas Day, I believe it has particular resonance for us this year. Because even though scientist have been warning us about the damaging effects of human behaviour on our climate for over 30 years, spring and the beginning of summer here in Australia has been a real wakeup call, something it’s become impossible to ignore.
After a record-dry Spring, amidst a crippling drought, with a scalding Summer already begun, many find themselves unable to breathe. Ash, too fine to see, is an inescapable presence for many on both sides of the continent. The sun, like our eyes, is red.
We are choking on dirty air. Up and down the eastern seaboard of our baked and burning continent, air quality has never been recorded as this bad, or for this long.
This ash is the dark shadow of forests and fauna engulfed by flame, doing untold damage to the natural environment and many native species. The fires in NSW alone have already burned an area larger than Wales. It’s an area greater than the fires in the Amazon earlier this year.
Many lives and homes have been lost. Communities disrupted and displaced. Thousands have been hospitalised. Flames have spread beyond the fire-adapted eucalypts into wet forests that previously repelled them, into scattered fragments of Gondwana Rainforest recognised as the common heritage of the world. Irreplaceable ecological treasures are in charred ruins and we are breathing their incinerated memory.
The land is parched. The air is hot. Beyond the usual seasonal cycles, human obsession with burning things for power has disrupted the global climate. Ironically, given where fires burn right now, New South Wales, Queensland and WA are among the world’s greatest sources of coal.
Dirty energy pollutes our politics and our leaders bow before its demands. Dirty energy disrupts the climate and dirties the air: metaphorically and literally.
It is in this context we read John’s origin story of Jesus. John unequivocally links the coming of Jesus with the creation of the cosmos which God has declared as very good. A created order in harmony, with humans placed in the garden to care for it.
But the climate catastrophe we face reveals the price we have paid for being obsessed with ourselves, and not paying attention to our earth, not caring for the gift we have been given.
And yet, it is this earth that the Christ child came to save.
One of the most quoted bible passages - ”for God so loved the world … that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life” follows soon after the reading we just heard. It reminds us that God loves the world, not simply we humans.
For far too long this passage has been understood as a promise that we humans will have life after death – that if we simply believed we would go to heaven when we die.
But eternal life is not primarily about life after death, but life lived in the here and now in relationship to God. It’s about fullness of life for everyone in the present.
And while the focus in John is primarily on eternal life as sharing God’s life in relationship with Jesus and with one another, these first verses of John set a broader frame of reference by linking the birth of Jesus with the very creation of the cosmos. It makes it clear that the redemption Jesus’ brings includes the whole creation.
Christmas day then is not so much a birthday celebration for the baby Jesus, as it is a call to each one of us, to embody the incarnation - to take on the responsibility of being God-like in our world - of being compassionate, peace-filled, and justice seeking, loving and fully alive as a part of the good creation.
Being God-like in today’s context of climate catastrophe means doing as much as we can to reduce our impact on the environment, as individuals and as a society. It means turning away our rampant consumerism and resource rich lifestyles.
It means understanding ourselves not as being on earth but of earth, understanding that our fate is inextricably linked with the wellbeing of the whole creation.
And we need hope. Not simply the vain hope that somehow the earth will right itself without us having to do anything, but the kind of hope that produces action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere.
Despite the inaction of our federal parliament, every state and territory has made either aspirational or legislated commitments towards zero-emissions. Householders in Australia are massively deploying small-scale solar and increasingly combining this with battery storage. Some 80% of Australians want the government to enhance their climate action and our children are leading the way with unprecedented, nationwide strikes calling for action on climate change. There is hope…
And hope looks a lot like the incarnation – God with us. When we accept that we are part of God’s good news in our world, we see God everywhere, God with us. Emmanuel.