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Earth is joined to Heaven

An address by Fr John Slater on Christmas Day 2003

25 December 2003 11:00 | Fr John Slater

London is quiet today. Right up until yesterday evening Oxford Street was crowded, the stores packed with shoppers buying last minute presents while Christmas carols were heard from every loudspeaker. I’m afraid carols have become just a Christmas sound. People can’t really be listening to the words - let alone singing them! Just think what serious statements about the Christian faith are contained in popular carols.

O come all ye faithful has the amazing verse,
God of God, Light of Light,
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s womb;
Very God, begotten, not created.
Hark the herald-angels sing is equally theological,
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see:
Hail, the incarnate Deity,
Pleased as Man with man to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

And The Holly and the Ivy is almost a Passiontide hymn when it speaks of a berry as red as any blood, a prickle as sharp as any thorn, and a bark as bitter as any gall.

Well, of course, all that is bound to be lost on shoppers in Oxford Street who probably don’t even hear the words. But they are not lost on us as we sing our carols to greet this Christmas morning. After all, why is it that we celebrate the birth of a child in an obscure town in Judaea two thousand years ago? It’s because of who we believe him to be and what we believe he has accomplished for us by his life and death and resurrection.

No matter how many Christmases we have celebrated, I don’t think we can ever cease to be amazed by the claims we make for this child. Angels and archangels may have gathered there, cherubim and seraphim thronged the air. This is a heavenly event but it takes place in the humblest of human conditions - the stable of an inn in tiny Bethlehem. And this is the very heart of it all - that God who is utterly different from us becomes a man among us to live the life of humanity. He is truly Emmanuel - God with us.

And if it is amazing that God should become man, we also know that this is part of a wonderful exchange. St Anselm asked, Why did God become man? And he replied, In order that man might become God. By his incarnation in Jesus, God has united us to himself. As he has shared our human and mortal life, so we will share his divine and eternal life.

Now that really is a reason for singing our carols today to greet his birth.
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