Summary: El Caganer: "the man who is doing his business", the docetist heresy to which we all fall prey, especially when we sing the Christmas Carol "Away in a Manger". It’s about poo, really; but Christ is real: fully human AND fully divine, and we often forget t
Sermon: 4th Sunday of Advent
Text: John 1:1
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
So, we have had the Children’s Nativity Play. The crib is up, and with the notable exception of the bambino it is almost complete.
Or is it?
In Catalan homes and Churches there is another figure which I have not spotted amongst our ancient and by-now-very-fragile crib: I speak of “El Caganer” – who can be loosely translated as “the one who is doing his business”.
The business in hand must be taken quite euphemistically, when I tell you that El Caganer takes his place in the Christmas Crib, besides the Wise Men, wearing a peasant beret and squatting, with his trousers around his ankles.
In the midst of all this solemnity, there is injected a little earthly humour, a little humanity in the midst of all this Godliness.
And I say, that this is a good thing, a very good thing indeed: a little grounding in reality just as we let our pietism loose on flights of extreme fantasy.
The Christmas Crib, like what we have at the back of Church, the living Nativity, such as we saw performed by our own Sunday School at the beginning of today’s mass was first created by Saint Francis of Assisi.
Francis sought to remind people what the nativity actually meant: to ground the event in reality – to remind people that the nativity was not a chocolate box affair of gleaming straw and sterile food troughs, but a dirty, smelly, cold, faeces-covered battle of endurance for a young girl and her much older husband.
The incarnation, the miracle of the incarnation was the choice of a God who was prepared to pour himself out for us: not only at the end of his life in the triumph of the cross, but at the beginning. The incarnation was an act of vulnerable humility, of great risk.
The heresy of docetism suggests that God only appeared in human form, that the incarnation was symbolic, that the crucifixion did not kill, that Christ did not need to eat, drink or even, dare one suggest it, defecate. Such heresy was rightly crushed by the great Bishop Ignatius of Antioch in his writings and condemned by ecumenical council, but I suggest to you this morning, that there is an element of docetism in all of us, an unwillingness to accept the vibrant truth of the incarnation, a temptation to saccharinise the nativity:
“The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”
…as that heretical Christmas Carol goes. We willingly collude with the unrealistic, unincarnational concept of an unreal, docestic Jesus, when we should be prepared to grasp that uncomfortable truth: that God-is-with-us, that Emmanuel was incarnated as a human being, and that he became one of us.
What is Away in a Manager trying to prove? That Christ was sinless? Certainly, Christ was sinless, but no child cries because of sin, children cry because that is how they communicate. The word, the divine logos, became flesh and his first communications with us were not the beatitudes, or even “it is finished” but a cry of hunger, of cold and for a clean nappy.