CAMINANDO WITH JESUS: The Queen Comes Down
Christmas 1 | December 29, 2019
By the Rev. Lauren F. Winner
CAMINANDO WITH JESUS is a series of reflections on the Sunday Gospel by clergy and laity from across the Diocese.
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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.
- John 1:1-18
A few weeks ago, on Christ the King Sunday, I pondered, in my sermon, whether Queen Elizabeth II might help us think about Christ’s royalty. I talked about how her power is real, even though it doesn’t always seem obvious. I talked about the way her flesh is identified with the flesh of the English people. After the sermon, someone asked me if I’d seen The Crown – the current Netflix series that follows Elizabeth’s reign. I hadn’t, but now I have – almost all three seasons. I got hooked. And a scene from The Crown has been with me as we enter Christmastide.
The scene I’ve been pondering comes in the second season. A still young Queen visits a car plant and gives a speech that goes very badly – she condescends to the workers, and she is criticized as being wooden and out-of-touch. In response to all this criticism, Elizabeth decides to do a few things differently. She gives her annual Christmas message, for the first time, on television rather than radio; and she begins welcoming ordinary British people – a car dealer, a boxer, a restauranteur, a bus driver – into Buckingham Palace for a visit. The Royal family is shown snobbishly bemoaning this “humiliating” concession, and then the Queen Mother and Elizabeth go down to greet the people.
I have been thinking of this scene as we enter Christmastide. It’s not a perfect analogy; I prefer to think that just prior to the Incarnation, Jesus and the Father weren’t making catty snobbish comments to one another about all creation. But it does seem to me an apt evocation of the very thing we celebrate at Christmas. The Queen, as it were, lowered herself to go be with her people because, ultimately, she loved them, and she wanted them to have greater access to and deeper connection with her.
No analogy for the Incarnation is perfect: the Incarnation is like a chef, who so loves the meal she is creating that she actually becomes a dish of mashed potatoes? The Incarnation is like a master gardener, who so loves her garden that she finds, finally, that she has become a rose bush? Or the Incarnation is like a Queen, who is so devoted to her people that finally she comes down from the upper reaches of the palace and goes to them. None of these is perfect, but all of them show something. I can imagine that gardener as a character in an ancient fairy tale or a 21st-century novel of magical realism - the gardener whose love of her roses gradually (over nine months, say) converts her limbs and torso into a deep green and turns her head into a thousand silky petals; the gardener whose love eventually pulls her into the soil with all the rose bushes she’s tended all those years. I would understand, if I read that novel, that the gardener’s incarnation as a rose had come about because of and through her devoted love for and identification with her roses. And then I would wonder: After all these years of reading the Christmas story, do I really understand that Christmas is because God loves us that much, too?
This Sunday’s Gospel feels, in some ways, so very different from the charmingly narrative Gospel text from Luke many of us read on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. The Prologue of John is so different from our Christmas music, which bursts with shepherds and roses and angels and oxen and asses and apple trees. John’s prologue, of course, is gorgeous in its own way, and the tone, so unlike the Lukan shepherds and swaddling, can be usefully bracing; the Prologue’s philosophical and poetic glassiness cutting through some of the eggnog and wrapping paper, jarring us.
Of course, what it jars us to behold is the same thing we’ve been singing about and reenacting in our Christmas pageants: “the Word became flesh and lived among us.”
The Rev. Lauren F. Winner is the vicar of St Paul’s, Louisburg.
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