Sermon by The Rev’d Canon Dr William Taylor, Sunday, January 3, 2016
Readings: Jeremiah 31:7-14, Ephesians 1:3-14, John 1: 10-18
In this joyful season of Christmas, and before the crib with the Holy Child, I salute you in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ with warm greetings from your brothers and sisters in Christ in the Diocese of London. Our readings today all communicate that joy in the faith which we experience at Christmas, with the central message which we heard from the Gospel of John “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” This is the amazing centre of our faith, that God becomes fully human in order that each one of us – you and me- might become fully God-like. Much of my work in the Diocese of London is with the Orthodox Churches, where this central truth of our faith is known as Theosis, and this process of becoming fully God-like in this teaching of he continues, of course, after our physical death. This central message of our faith communicates the joy of Christmas, in which God gives us the greatest gift of His Son, fully human, living as one of us. All our readings today continue that sense of joy which comes from the Incarnation. This, of course, has profound implications for each one of us as we live out our faith wherever God has placed us. So today, I want to draw out just two of those implications. First, the meaning of the word became flesh, and second what it means for us to become Godlike as sons and daughters of God.
So first the meaning of the incarnation. When we say the word became flesh and dwelt among us, if we went to the original Greek, we would find that the words, when we translate them into the English language, actually mean, “He pitched his tent among us.” This communicates the radical insecurity which characterises our human condition. When we achieve material wealth and material stability, this can partially disguise the sense that, in our lives, we hang by a thread which can snap at any time – the Tagalog expression “Kapit sa patalim” expresses this sense of radical insecurity very well. Those who feel close to this are those who have experienced real loss – loss of homes through war and violence and natural disaster, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of health. I felt this very clearly in 2014, which I began with the devastated communities from Typhoon Yolanda, and ended among the refugee camps of Iraq amongst Christians who had fled from the violent barbarism of the so-called Islamic State. Here, the radical insecurity which characterises our human condition was very clearly felt and shown, and called out a response of working together to relieve human suffering. The Tagalog concept of Pakikisama expresses this well- working together and sharing the burden, so that no one is left alone on their loss. This, for me, is the meaning of the incarnation.
Now to the second point – that as God becomes fully human, we might become God-like as sons and daughters of God. This concept, expressed in the word Theosis, gives each one of us a unique dignity which nothing can remove. The unique and inalienable dignity given to each one of us I see very clearly through the ministry with migrants. I never use the term ministry to, because ministry, when it is effective and real is always two way. In fact, I receive far more than I give through the people with whom I work. In my case, I am especially blessed to be working amongst the Filipino Chaplaincy of the Diocese of London, with its gifted priest and lay people. Some are newly arrived, some are undocumented, some are longer established, some have dual citizenship of the Philippines and the UK, and (increasingly) many are British born. The energy and enthusiasm of the Filipino Christian community appears as a spring in the dry desert of secular fundamentalism which increasingly characterises the British political establishment and ruling class. The Filipino Chaplaincy of the Diocese of London, ecumenical in its expression, and staffed by priests of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente is showing a new and twenty first century way, after we see the bankruptcy of the twentieth century desert of secularism. I thank God for this. In the part of London in which I live and work we can expect to see some concrete results in 2016- not least showing migrant to migrant ministry as we receive our fair share of the 20,000 refugees from Syria the UK has committed to accept. We hope to work together in this task, with the Filipino Chaplaincy taking in its part in welcoming these new arrivals in Britain. Why do we do this? Because as we become more and more God-like as sons and daughters of God, we will show that unique and inalienable dignity which is given to the human person, wherever they are from. This will strengthen the people of faith wherever they are, and I thank God for it, as we are changed into God’s likeness.
So as we begin this Year of Grace 2016, I pray that this central message of the joy of Christmas will carry us through whatever lies ahead – both good and bad. I thank God for the prophetic ministry of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente and all the churches of the Philippines. I pray that the year ahead will be full of acts of mercy, as decreed by His Holiness Pope Francis, who experienced first-hand this last year the infectious and joyous faith of the Filipino. This is what it means when we read and say, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” A very happy and blessed Christmas and New Year to all. Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon.