“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”

Kirkgate Market has had a makeover. Over the last few days it will have been a hive of activity. Turkeys will have, not literally of course, flown out of the butchers. Enough fruit and veg purchased to feed an army. Amidst all the kerfuffle, some may have paused to notice some words painted on a wall.

The Kirkgate Market logo stands in the middle, on one side of it there are these words ‘Many stories told’ and on the other ‘Many still to tell.’

Many stories told. Many still to tell. Those words have stayed with me since I first saw them earlier in the year for they could equally be applied to Christmas.

What stories told accompany our Christmas?

Like the one when Dad went out on Christmas Eve to buy a Christmas Tree only to find them all sold out, and came back with what could be described as a Christmas branch.

Or the Christmas when the snow came down meaning that cars had to be left some way from the family home and walks made over snowy and icy roads to get home.

Or the time when plans were changed when an outbreak of illness meant that there were rather more at your house that you’d planned. These are some of mine, you will have your own.

Many stories told. What stories to tell from Christmas 2017 will seep into our family history?

We don’t know yet but something will happen. And the words we shall use to tell these stories will matter to us, for they become part of our story.

In the midst of a life in which words are so important, it’s interesting that the writer of St John’s Gospel memorably describes the coming of Jesus, the story we tell again this evening as being as ‘the word’.

‘And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ Why does John do this? Well for me he is trying to say that there is more to this Jesus. That he wasn’t just a person. He was God in human form.

He’s trying to find language to describe the miracle of the incarnation, when God ‘became flesh and dwelt among us’.

And the word made flesh was revealed not as a kind of superman but as something fragile, vulnerable and utterly dependent on others; a baby.

The story of Christmas has been told for two thousand years, and needs to keep being told because what we celebrate this night is the story. A story that, if we let it shapes the stories still to be told.

And rather like the best Christmas Stories from our lives, this story is about things not turning out as we expect. And those are the best stories for wouldn’t Christmas be boring if everything we exactly to plan?

If the Turkey was always cooked to perfection?
If the sprouts were tender and delicious, rather than over steamed or undercooked?
If Auntie Mary didn’t get slightly drunk and start telling embarrassing stories?

The best of our Christmas stories aren’t so much about when all went perfectly but rather the opposite.

And whilst some of our culinary mistakes might be due to a little excess on the beverage front might they also remind us of something important? That the story at the heart of Christmas is all about a God of surprises who doesn’t do what we expect.

For the word made flesh was born into the mess and muddles of our lives, into the fragility and brokenness we know so well and says I need you.

Now here we get into dangerous territory because I don’t think God needs us, God is God. Rather in the birth of Jesus God chooses to say I need you. The God revealed in Jesus needed Mary and Joseph to grow from child to a man.

This need of God flows out of God’s desire for a relationship with us, not because we can make God any more God but because God loves us and invites to love him and know him.
And for love to be love, there can be no cajoling or telling or manipulation or mixed motives just openness and invitation.

So for me every year as the story is told again, I’m challenged deeply by the crib in which the Saviour of the world was born. To think what it means for the stories yet to be told.
And that takes me back to those words with which I began ‘The word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ and ask what might they mean for us as 2017 is drawing to a close?

So many words have been spent describing what has happened in this year, often these words seem harsh and unpleasant. There are too many careless and graceless words.

What though might our stories look like in 2018 if we live more deeply into the truth at the heart of this night?

A night when we realise afresh that God is with us, always. Perhaps even most of all, in weakness and vulnerability, in times when we need the other most.

A baby is entirely dependent on others for its needs. What if we, as individuals and as a society lived this more, realised our mutual dependence on each other?

How might the story of the nations of the world change, if we abandoned our desire to dominate and possess and instead looked at the world with the eyes of the infant Christ who looked at his parents saying I need you. I need you.

How might we change too if we let go of power and the need to control our relationships and lived the words I need you to those whom we meet along the way.

Maybe, just maybe the world and we as the people who live it might look and feel rather different.

So may God, as we think of the story we tell this night, and of the stories we shall tell in this coming year, give us grace to not be afraid to open our arms and our hearts, just like the baby in the crib and say I need you.

Many stories told. Many still to tell.

“And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”