I love a Christmas song. Since moving here the hot Christmas thing is the craziest thing to get used to – jingle bells in the supermarket aisles while the AC is blasting out and the sweat is dripping will probably never become normal. And I’ve heard some new and unique takes on the Christmas story – Santa’s sleigh being pulled by 6 White Boomers was a bit of a surprise and tonight’s Silver Stars is a welcome addition to my carol repertoire. I never knew there was a song to tell me when to make my Christmas gravy (you’ve missed the day, if you didn’t know either….) but there’s one song that has followed me here and that is Bette Midler singing From a Distance… You know it?
It’s a nice song – IMO Cliff Richard did it well but Bette does it best. I especially like her little drummer boy section and the joy to the world ending is simply brilliant – but it’s not right. I’m sorry Bette – your theology is totally wrong. Your song tells us big unhelpful lies. And I’ll tell you why.
She beautifully sings God is watching us, God is watching us, God is watching us… from a distance. And that’s just not true. And tonight’s gospel reading tells us why…
In the beginning was the Word – Jesus. And the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word – Jesus – became flesh and lived among us.
The Word became flesh and lived among us! Or the way one paraphrase version of the bible puts it…The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood.
God is not watching us from a distance at all! God is near, so near, in skin, alongside, with, eye-to-eye – not far away and looking down upon.
And that is the beautiful profound promise of Christmas; because of Christmas, where God put on skin and came and lived among us, we are not alone, being watched from a distance. We are totally WITH. Always accompanied by God, in Christ.
Last Christmas, and this Christmas, have really been sideswiped by a global pandemic, and even though we are currently safe within these borders, we are still – many of us – spending Christmas without our favourite loved ones.
There are many of us who will have an extra space, or two, or more, at our Christmas dinner tables. Even this week, I have sat with a newly bereaved widow, waiting to bury her beloved husband, and I’ve had conversations with people who are dreading Christmas, or even have cancelled it, because they feel like they just can’t face it on their own, or with their person missing.
And maybe that Christmas loneliness is familiar to you, maybe even years on. And I want you to know that you are seen and known and loved. And I want you to also know that God is not far off, even if it feels that way. God is not watching us from a distance. Not at all.
Because of Christmas, God is watching us, right up close and personal; right around our dinner tables, right here, right now; and, more than that, God is not just here and now, but is also there and there and there and everywhere.
God is with those who are away from their families this Christmas, and with the prisoners in their cells and the doctor carrying out emergency surgery; and with the patient; and with the woman who will see nobody. God is with the refugee who is far from home and no longer knows where home is and is with the person surrounded by family but who feels entirely alone, even in the midst of chaos and business.
But here is the beautiful truth; because of Christmas, God, in Christ, is so near. So near. God is in the candlelight and the gift wrapping; in the turkey dinner and the Christmas pudding. God is alongside the barbie and at the beach and whatever else you Australians get up to on a bright sunny hot Christmas day! God is in all the celebrations and the post-dinner swim or snooze. God is in every bubble in every glass and completely in the little tradition that is unique to your family, and your family alone. God is even in the gravy you should’ve made on 21st!!
Whether you are approaching this Christmas with absolute joy, or slight trepidation; whether your Christmas promises to be the best one ever, or be tinged with sadness; or most likely all those things – don’t listen to Bette Midler. Her song is great. Her perspective is interesting but she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about.
God is not watching us from a distance. God is right here, up close, eye to eye, heart to heart, soul to actual soul:
The word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory; the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
So. May you know it afresh, or for the first time ever, this Christmas.
May your day, your week, your year, be filled with the light and life, the glory, the grace and truth of the Christ-child. And may you know that God has come near, and lives right here, among us, because of love for you. And because God is DELIGHTED to do so.
Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Alleluia. Amen.