Isn’t it a bit odd that millions of people around the world get together to remember an event that happened:
- in a shed
- in a one horse (or one donkey) town
- in an occupied country the size of Wales.
- 2016 years ago or thereabouts
- And that we do it every year?
And the event itself is pretty mundane when you think about it. Although every birth is a unique miracle and wonderful for the parents, there are more than 4 births every second worldwide. 360,000 per year according to (believe it or not) the CIA.
But there was nothing mundane about this birth. It changed world history. And it has had an impact on countless millions of lives over two millennia. And it still does.
Christians believe that in this child God became man – or as St John puts it the word became flesh. And it happened in fulfilment of a series of promises made by God’s
messengers, the prophets, hundreds of years before it occurred. For those who understood the meaning of those ancient texts, this baby, who would be named Jesus, ticked all the boxes.
Maybe you’re the kind of person who when looking for the ideal job or relationship has a number of ideal qualities in mind. And when you find a job or meet a person you make a comparison with your checklist. You might mentally or even literally tick them off.
I remember talking to someone once who went on a date with someone who actually pulled out an excel spreadsheet which listed the desired qualities in a prospective partner –
perhaps that’s a bit over the top and in case you were wondering there wasn’t a second date.
St Matthew had been a tax-collector and for him it was important that this person who called him to be a disciple ticked all the right boxes. In his Gospel one reads many times in connection with Jesus, “this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet” – tick. Some of these ‘fulfilments’ are in connection with his birth; others are in connection with his life and death. Tick, tick, tick.
For St Matthew Jesus was ‘the one’ as he has been for innumerable followers ever since.
Jesus is such a multi-dimensional character. He reveals himself to us in many and varied ways. And while some of the titles or qualities attributed to him may not be on your checklist (such as fulfilling ancient prophecies), there may be others that are. Here are just a few:
- Light of the world – someone who brings enlightenment in our darkness
- Bread of life – one who feeds our need for spirituality
- The true vine – someone who connects us with God and others
- The way – one who gives us direction and purpose in our lives
- The gate or door – through which we pass on our journey to God
- The good shepherd – one who cares to the point of laying down his own life
In 1943 TW Maltby, a Salvationist, wrote a song called “Christ is the answer to my every need”. It was a statement of faith written at a time of massive upheaval – the Second World War. We used to sing it in Sunday School when I was growing up. I haven’t heard it sung in
While I would not want to disagree with these words, which were written out of someone’s personal experiences; for me Christ, or rather faith in Jesus Christ, helps me to live with the questions. And like many of you I’m sure, I have plenty of them.
I don’t suppose the world is a much darker place than it has ever been, it’s just that we have never had so much of it in our living rooms via TV and the internet. From the horrors of Syria and Yemen to terror attacks in Europe we have become voyeurs of all that is wrong with our world. Continual exposure to shocking images may blunt our sense of perspective
and with it our compassion. And it may cause us to question – where is God in all of this?
My faith makes me believe that God is still being born in a shed – maybe in Aleppo or Sana’a. He is being born, for example, in the lives of the white helmets and those who campaign against the sale of cluster bombs to dictatorships. Just as God was born in Jesus in an unlikely place 2000+ years ago, God continues to be born in unlikely places today. God is in the thick of things.
There is something that draws us back to this celebration year after year. Perhaps it is the idyllic image of a crib scene in all of its naivety. Perhaps it is the symbol of hope it offers to a hurting world – a hope that is offered to all of us. Because that is what Jesus came into this world to bring us. Any belief system, whether religious or secular, that does not at least
give us hope is, well, pretty hopeless really. And there is plenty of hopelessness around.
And following the way of Jesus promises to give us so much more – peace of heart, life in abundance, joyfulness – who wouldn’t want that – which is why it is sometimes described as a pearl of great price.
Perhaps you’re thinking there must be a catch or maybe that you know some Christians who do not seem to be like that. Well, we are all works in progress and many who look for spiritual answers come from pretty broken lives – I know I did. And healing can be a slow and sometimes painful process. But it is a worthwhile one.
As we remember this baby born in a manger of hay, may Christ also be born in us – as a light, as bread, as a vine, as a gate, as a shepherd, as a way – whatever he might mean for you. May he help you to live with your questions. May you find hope, peace, life and joy in Jesus Christ not just at Christmas – but for the rest of your lives. Amen.