And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory… full of grace and truth.
You shouldn’t, so the saying goes, believe everything that you read in the newspapers. Nor, it would seem, can you believe everything you read on the internet. Which of course, is a bit of a problem if that’s the only way you get your news.
That’s not, of course a modern phenomena. However, today we’ve moved further and faster into the realm of “well, a friend of a friend of a friend said that they heard…”
SO, what is true? That’s one of the biggest and most critical questions that faces us today. We live in a world where now we struggle to differentiate between objective truth and subjective opinion. And that is a problem. In theology, we call that the problem of relativism – put simply: the philosophical position that all points of view are equally valid, and that all truth is relative to the individual. So all moral positions, all religious systems, all art forms, all political movements, etc., are truths that are relative only to the individual. Hurrah! I can always be right!
Since it’s Christmas morning, and this all sounds a little heavy – lets put it this way. You buy a pair of socks for your partner. You believe they are the most beautiful socks ever. They even say so on the label. However, when your other half unwraps them, they wear that Christmas morning look of “oh, how lovely, just what I wanted!”
You tackle them the next day: they’re the most beautiful socks – but you looked disappointed. “That’s because they’re horrid!” And so the usual familial boxing day row begins. Just because you think they’re beautiful and want them to be beautiful doesn’t make them so. And the reverse is true too – just in case you have bought the most beautiful socks…
The great American president Abraham Lincoln confounded his advisors when they presented a decision based on supposition and emotion rather than logic and truth. “How many legs does a sheep have?” he asked. “Four” they replied. “And if I said the sheep’s tail was a leg, how many legs would it have then?” “Five” they replied. “No!” he retorted. “It would still have four legs – just calling a tail a leg, doesn’t make it one.”
Some of you have heard me say that Christianity is dangerous. That’s because it constantly asks us about truth rather than “how would you like truth to be for you”. It challenges our perceptions, prejudices and pride. Indeed the danger of today is that rather than become child like in the face of the Christ child, we become childish is reducing the power of the incarnation to little more than soppy sentimentality. We discover here Truth does not bend to our convenience. We meet today the Jesus who is, not the Jesus of our fantasies.
We beheld his glory… full of grace and truth.
The prologue to John’s Gospel that we heard perfectly balances the beginning and end of Jesus’ life with this single word: truth. The word made flesh, whose glory, grace and truth we see in the Christ child is the same person who, is mocked and tried before a roman governor who asks the relativist’s question “what is truth”?
The Christian celebration of the incarnation: this Christmas season challenges to ask not the relativists question, but to question the relativist with the answer: here is truth, here is God made man, here is glory and grace.
In doing so we are called to delve ever deeper in our discipleship and to call the world to the same task: so search for truth, to search for answers, to search for real meaning. That’s hard work. For the relativist’s greatest trick is to tell us the answers are easy, that a slogan is all you need, that his or her “truth” is all that matters. Yet those lies quickly fall apart. It’s not experts we shouldn’t trust – those whose business is to re-orientate us to the truth – it is those who spin their mere opinions as truth – they are the ones we shouldn’t trust – the modern day Pilates who see truth, but truth does not fit their answers. By the way, can I have my £350 million back now?
It is the Christ child who teaches us from the manger that such hubris is our downfall. The child of a single mother, born in homeless poverty, dependent on the kindness of strangers, who will become a political refugee fleeing occupied territory in an oppressive regime – doesn’t exactly look like the King, the Messiah who was expected.
We know this in our own lives when we’re drawn like moths to a light entranced and enraptured by sylph like words of pseudo-experts: those who promise everything, and yet deliver nothing; those who speak of service, but only serve themselves. They revel in the deceit of relativism – and are adored by the gullible. The reality is, we eventually discover they are frauds – little more than what my mother would have called “con-men” They promise to lead us to the promised land, but they have no idea how to get there.
Truth is the antidote to these false prophets of hyperbole. Jesus is the way, the life, the truth.
Perhaps that’s why Christmas, however me might dress it up, still fires something in our hearts – because it reminds us that truth matters. We know it, when we see it. And in the Christ child, in Jesus we see it, we behold it, we know and are known, possessed, blessed and called to action by it.
We might not be able to believe everything we read in the newspapers – but here, now, we meet truth head on, full of grace, full of glory. For truth is love – made flesh, dwelling among us. All we need to do is to recognize it and in doing so, know that we are loved. In doing so, we teach the world what truth is, challenge falsehood and bring hope where there is despair.
What is truth? Today we find the answer as they say, staring us in the face: truth: Jesus Christ.