Summary: A short sermon contrasting a new born baby with the depth of the wonder of God's nature.
As some of you know, my wife and I had our first baby in August - Joanna. She’s such a little thing: defenceless, can’t move very far on her own, can’t feed, drink or clothe herself, can’t talk, and doesn’t know the Christmas story. But she has got out attention, not least at 1.00 am, 2.00 am, 3.00 am, and 4.00 am. People at a distance might be able to say ‘ahhh how nice that family has a new baby’. But for us close to her it’s had a much greater impact, as those of you with your own children know all too well. Family members have travelled great distances to see her and brought her gifts, schedules have been reorganised to make sure she has what she needs, our house has been reorganised and daily life rewritten, sleep patterns altered, buggies and car seats commandeered so that she can travel. This is what love does to us. Close to such a child, we can find within us new elements of our selves opening up because of love. These are the things love does to us.
Our society is full of educated and public figures telling us that we don’t need the stories of God and baby Jesus in order to find spiritual succour. John Young, producer of QI, spoke on Desert Island Discs of how he found meaning in a book which helped him engage with his own identity. Terry Pratchett said in a radio interview recently that he was a confirmed atheist but has a little shrine downstairs to ‘my lady the Muse’. These types of spiritual searchings are in some ways very close to what we Christians bear witness to, but in other ways a million miles away. Science and shrines, and times of quiet and contemplating the wonder of the world on a hill top or in a beautiful cathedral, are worthwhile spiritual journeyings, but they’re in danger of mistaking a pale imitation for the real thing - falling in love with the mass-produced Ikea cot and not noticing the unique baby.
Christianity is about wonder, of course, but it also takes seriously the deeper darkness of our human experiences. John’s gospel, in that famous reading, describes Christ as the light of the world. Indescribable wonder that God coming among us is, Christ is also the one who gets dirt beneath his fingernails and nails through the palms of his hands. We’ve seen this so much in this last year. The wonderfully uplifting events of the Olympics, the glories of the Para Olympics where difficulty was overcome through struggle, the celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, have been wonderfully glorious. But we’ve also seen that that does not represent the whole story of who we are. The report on Hillsborough tells us that victims of tragedy and their families can be turned on and victimised against by ordinary people in the police force and journalism who bought the false stories. And the horrors of what is surfacing about Jimmy Saville do not just tell us about things we need to blame the BBC for or the NHS for.
Ours is a delicious, but also a dark, world which cannot have its human potential fully realised by living off the glow of the Olympics, or breathing in fresh air on a hill top, or having a muse in one’s home. It needs something which comes from the truth of what lies behind, beneath, and beyond this inexplicably complex universe: that which incomprehensibly has become a human being to reveal our darkness, and yet show us our value. This child of Christmas throws sharply into light our inclination to solve our problems by making victims of others, and yet still offers us God given self esteem which has the potency to undermine the rhythms of victimisation.
So, don’t be distant from the stories of the birth of the Christ child this season. You are a close relative. This Christ child is yours. You will never be the same again. It does things to you. This bundle of a defenceless baby means you have to rearrange the habits of your life to accommodate it, as did the shepherds and wise men. Where our love is shut down, the Christ child can open us up. If emptiness makes us competitive, bitter, insecure, inferior, or without purpose, the Christ child enables us to feel valued. No pale imitation, but the real thing, with a value which comes from the source of all that is. It is guaranteed. It is underwritten. The love that is in the gift of the Christ child challenges us to change our life, see our self, and to be differently. I’ve not been the same since the birth of Joanna…