Senseless Love

“full of grace, and truth” (John 1:14)

By Damian Feeney

It was said of the late Michael Ramsey that you couldn’t get very far in a lecture or sermon of his before he warmed to the theme of glory. How apposite, of course, for one whose life was itself such a doxology. The author of the Fourth Gospel warms to the same theme this morning as we hear again some of the greatest words written at any time and in any language, concerning the Incarnation of God, his becoming flesh. And glory — perhaps unless you are Michael Ramsey — can be a hard thing to articulate. We connect the word glory to God’s presence, an inseparable part of God’s being — but further elucidation can be complex. So I find the end of the gospel this morning helpful. Glory, we are told, is “full of grace and truth.”

If the glory of God in Jesus Christ is full of grace, then it is an attribute that does not merely live in and of itself. God’s glory is never for show. Its very nature is gift — gift to us, the children of God who are reminded this day to feel love and joy and blessing because that is God’s desire, expressed most fully in his birth among us.

The glory of God is never an end in itself, but always directed to us, to guide us home to be united with that glory forever — and we are reminded of Athanasius’ words, that “He became as we are, so that we might become as he is.” This morning, we do not merely behold his glory — we are invited to share it. “Grace is but glory begun, and glory is but grace perfected,” said Jonathan Edwards. Grace and gift reach out, so that they might be gloriously fulfilled in us, through Christ.

Not only this, but we are told that this same glory is full of truth. Here is one whose feet do not stray, not because he is in some sense pre-programmed to take away the frailty that is the lot of all humanity but because this life is a perfect abandonment to the will of God, and a perfect self-giving. Nothing here that is not of God, and yet human, frail, crying for nourishment, warmth, the love of a mother. The perfect, truthful human life is begun — the tether that attaches us to the life God longs for us to have, a life bought with his life, a truth comprehended in his.

The opening of the Fourth Gospel — so weighty in significance, so powerful in language and meaning, glosses over one thing. This eternal and glorious Word, full of grace and truth, starts his visible journey today like every other human — frail, just about able to exist outside his mother whilst still so dependent upon her. He will grow, in stature, in wisdom, of course he will. But for now, for this moment, we recognize that God’s plan of dependency upon the human condition is total. Into your hands, O Mary, God commits his Spirit.

No child ever occasioned such love. No child occasioned such joy. No child occasioned such fear, and trembling, or inspired such good among God’s people, or such horror among those who would pit everything against him. But for now he is still a baby, and all that will unfold in his earthly life is for later. Today we are left with as much wonder as we have human capacity for — the wonder that God could really do this thing, this way.

You see, the atheists are right. Our belief in the God-human is senseless, because there is no sense in the agony and the ecstasy of true, headlong love. And because he loved us first, and we long to love him more, believe it we do. God has become human in Jesus, and because of that we can face Jesus’ future, and our own, with assurance, confidence and joy, because this morning “we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”

The Rev. Damian Feeney, SSC, is parish priest of the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, Ettingshall, Wolverhampton, West Midlands, England.


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