Around the world, Christians are celebrating today, the birth of God’s Son, the Word made flesh and now living among us as a small, helpless baby. We hear the good news: God loves us so much, God now lives among us, so we may truly know we are never alone. The good news is real. Today we know it to be true.
On Wednesday evening last week, we held our Blue Service, for people who struggle at this time of year. Those for whom Christmas is not a happy time, perhaps grieving the loss of loved ones, perhaps holding onto the memories of conflict and lives of regret, of hardship, of lost jobs, homes and broken relationships. Perhaps it’s the daily reality of insufficient income and a present life in tents or in the back of cars. Experiencing the advent season’s gifts of hope, love, joy and peace are almost too hard to bear. We discover our neighbours are breaking and we are as vulnerable as them.
I am also vividly aware of night skies elsewhere in the world, which have bombs lighting up the darkness rather than stars which we can follow, and places where there are no inns, only fractured bomb shelters and makeshift hospitals, where having a baby in the darkness of the night is a risky and fearful occasion rather than a joy bringing hope for the future.
So today, more than ever before, we must dig deep to hear the good news in a way that is meaningful for everyone who needs it so badly. We have come together to hear about the birth of a baby, born two thousand years ago, whose coming was foretold by God’s angels. A young girl chose to step into God’s dreams for the world and helped to make them a reality. She had the courage to defy all human expectations and together with a man who trusted both God and her, birthed a baby in the darkness of the night; and the hope invested in Jesus, God’s Son and Messiah, as prophesied for centuries by the prophets, became real.
Today, we too have become midwives, birthing hope in the face of cynicism, greed and selfishness, violence and fear. We look with God’s eyes, so we can see our neighbour and the stranger, now as one of God’s beloved children, just like you and I.
The great wheels of political and military might and the exercise of powerful oppression and control that was the juggernaut of the Roman Empire, were all unable to stop God’s Son being born to a young Jewish woman and her betrothed husband. Herod, king of the Jews was unable to prevent Jesus’ birth which had been foretold by God’s prophets, and Mary and Joseph nurtured and loved Jesus as he attended Synagogue and as he grew into adulthood and prepared to overturn history.
As I reflect on the nativity story, I realise once again how magnificent is the subversive nature of God’s plans. God didn’t go to the wealthy or politically, or militarily powerful, nor to kings or emperors; instead, God went to an insignificant girl and a faithful man who lived in a small, hard to find, town and asked if she would work with God. God asked the same of Joseph. And the consequences of that courageous, powerful, subversive answer of ‘yes’ has reverberated around the world ever since.
Mary’s shout of joy and triumph at saying ‘yes’ has been sung ever since in the Magnificat as a hymn of rebellion and hope (Luke 1:46-55). Oscar Romero, priest and martyr, drew a comparison between Mary and the poor and powerless people in his own community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian executed by the Nazis, called the Magnificat ‘the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary hymn ever sung.’ It has even been banned in places where it was considered too subversive, too radical, such as in India, Guatemala and Argentina.
The voices of those without hope have sung it with power and anticipation over the last 2,000 years and we have sung it with them. God is abroad in the world, God is working for justice and peace, God is loving and generous, God is faithfully bringing hope to everyone: all of these messages of hope about which the powers and principalities of the world would have us remain silent.
Those who spread the news of the birth, in the darkness of the night, lit by God’s star, the light which the darkness cannot put out, are the shepherds in the fields, caring for their flocks. Shepherds were not highly respected, yet it was to them, in the night, God came with the angels to tell them the good news coming into the world. To shepherds whose lives were dangerous and tedious, lonely and rejected, it was to them God came to spread the news.
Nothing about this story is normal, ordinary or acceptable in our world’s judgement. God is clearly showing us a different way of seeing the world and one another, of truly seeing God and God’s hope for us all through the eyes of the ones who are struggling, who are feeling hopeless and alone and outside of the world’s expectations. Telling the story as a sweet story without the good news which is transforming the world, which is breaking open the world into a new creation, is like eating only the icing sugar on the Christmas cake, you can take it or leave it.
The good news of God is everywhere. It cannot be put back into the book and banned as too politically subversive or woke, it cannot be shut down. It cannot be silenced and neither can we be silenced. The power of God’s love will never be killed. Bombing, torture, crucifixion and death cannot and will not stop God’s message of love. You can be absolutely certain of this. As we go home to tables with or without food, with or without presents and with or without beloved company, let us be reassured, if we can only let go, stop holding on so tightly to our grief, our fear, our conflicts, our present troubles and give them to God, we will then find ourselves joining with the angels, in singing ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace among everyone…’
The Lord be with you.