The apprenticeship of the son of God

Meanings of Christmas: Today's Christmas sermon is a shortened version of that preached at the Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve by the Dean of Lichfield, the Very Rev Tom Wright.

A few years ago there was a man who had to leave home for a few days on business. His wife was to look after their four young children by herself, so the man devised a plan to help her. He said to his oldest son: "When I'm gone, I want you to think what I would normally do, and you do it instead of me." The son agreed; the father went off on his trip.

When he returned, he asked his wife what the oldest son had done in his absence. "Well," she said, "it was very strange. Straight after breakfast he made himself a large mug of coffee, put some loud music on the stereo, and sat down to read the newspaper for an hour." And the father was left to ponder whether or not the son had obeyed his instructions.

Not many children these days, in this country, follow parents into a family business. But there are many parts of the world where it still happens. The father learnt the trade from his father, who got it from his; and he passes it on to the son. No doubt each of them learns a few new tricks as well; but the basic skills of the trade are transmitted from generation to generation. Mostly this doesn't happen verbally. The son watches to see what the father does. Then he has a shot at doing it as well. At the end of the day, if you watch the son, you'll see the true reflection of the father.

The Christmas gospel focuses on the apprentice son of the God whom he called Father. Throughout John's Gospel, we see Jesus doing what he sees his Father doing. That's the explanation he gives for his strange and sometimes shocking behaviour. And John, writing his Gospel, intends us to watch the entire life of Jesus, from his puzzling birth to his appalling death, and to recognise in it a true reflection of what the Father is up to. "No one has ever seen God," he writes. "God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart - he has made him known."

Now, if this doesn't come as a shock, we haven't yet got the point. Most people today still have a high-and-dry view of God - a distant being, maintaining a dignified distance, never getting his hands dirty in the real world. But what if those hands turn out to be little and chubby, just big enough to grasp your finger? Most people would imagine that, if God were to speak, he would have a loud booming voice, giving orders from a great height. But what if God's voice were the small, quick, plaintive cries of a hungry baby?

A newspaper survey recently revealed that a very high proportion of the British population say they believe in God - but only a very small proportion go to church. Some journalists expressed surprise at this. But the key question is: which God is it they believe in? If it's the high-and-dry, distant, detached God, it's frankly not surprising they don't go to church. It's hardly worth getting out of bed for that "god".

But the real God, the blazing Word, confronted the smouldering embers of the powers that be. They reacted in fear and anger. They killed the Word-made-flesh. But the fire blazed out again three days later, with the news that this death was the great act of the creator's love. No one has seen God; but God the only Son copied his Father to the very end, acting out and embodying the deep, fiery love of the living God.

I was speaking in a church in Walsall a few weeks ago, when a woman who had worshipped there for a good many years came up to me with the question, How should I think of God when I pray? Lost for an answer, I asked her how she, had been accustomed to think of God. Well, she said, when I was young I used to think of God as a very, very old man, up in the sky, with a long white beard. Then when I got older I didn't find that very helpful. And now? I asked. Oh, she said, now I just think of Jesus.

She explained: there comes a point in your life when you suddenly notice that the policemen are younger than you are. Yes, I said, pushing my luck a bit; and maybe there comes a point when you realise that even the bishops are younger than you are. Yes, she said; and I suppose that what Christmas is about is realising that God is younger than I am.

She was right. I guess that's why the angels sing: from sheer exuberant astonishment and delight, as they recognise God the Only Son. And we're here tonight so that we can join in.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week