Christmas plays with what seems to be an amazing contradiction. In the fourth century the amazing preacher John Chrysostom put it like this: “The Ancient of Days has become an infant. He who sits upon the… heavenly throne now lies in a manger. And he who cannot be touched… now lies subject to the hands of men. He who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands.” Or as Trevor Dennis puts it: “all of heaven in a small baby lying in the straw.” The infancy narratives of Luke’s Gospel rock our world, for they try to tell us something explosive about God himself, and this ‘something’ isn’t revealed in power or prestige, politics or philosophy, but rather comes wrapped-up in the flesh of a tiny baby.
This really goes against the grain. So often when we think about God we think of everything that’s great about us and push it out as far as it will go. God has to be everything, but bigger and better. But here Luke take us in the opposite direction where the fullness of the deity is found in the weakness of a human child. In his skilful infancy narratives Luke leaves us in no doubt about the ‘opposite direction’ that our hearts and imaginations need to travel if we are to locate the deep mystery that we call God. His story takes us away from the politically significant, away from royal palaces and religious temples, and tells the news of this heavenly birth to a bunch of nomads. These shepherds are ‘outsiders,’ without anywhere to call home but the hills and mountains themselves. The are as one writer puts it “literally and metaphorically ‘out there,’ out of sight, out of hearing, out of mind, beyond the edges of civilised society.” I wonder what it means for us that a bunch of ‘outsiders’ where the first to hear the message of Christmas? What does it mean for our search for significance and meaning in our lives?
Well, perhaps it means that we have to start listening to those who we have pushed to the margins of our world. Perhaps it means we might need to give a voice to those we have silenced. Perhaps it might mean that we’ll have to begin the slow process of humanising those we have cast away in judgement or fear. If this child really is to create a ‘kingdom of nobodies’ then perhaps we’ll have to silence our own frantic demands to be noticed, empowered, entitled, and begin to give away our significance and power to others. If God’s way is to be emptied-out in love, perhaps that needs to be our way also. Listen again to what Saint Paul has to tell us, it’s explosive stuff: “consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing the things that are…” God’s way is like the story of The Lord of the Rings where ancient powers of death and slavery are toppled by the tiniest and most insignificant of people, the ‘small folk’ or Hobbits. Those who have little or no power in the world turn out to be those able to make the most difference. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise to us when we consider the way in which God enters into our world: with the powerless cries of a new born baby.
The prophet Isaiah cements this with a radical proclamation of his own. In a time of political turmoil, where the people of God are being pushed this way and that by the power-brokers of their world, a pawn in the games of international interest and control, a new sign is given that will change everything. Not another mighty king or ruler of the nations, but the coming of God himself. But this royal appearance will be like nothing the world has ever seen, “for a child has been born for us, a son is given to us.” This God stoops down to his people in their hurt and brokenness and walks among them in vulnerable love, what kind of power is this?
This is the contradiction of Christmas, and it is a wondrous one, the majesty of God wrapped up in our human flesh. To return to Trevor Dennis, “At Christmas we all find ourselves with a God who does not threaten or condemn, but a God… we can hold in our arms; a God who does not wish to be left out in the cold and needs the warmth of our hospitality and care; a God who comes very close and makes himself at home; who stands on no ceremony and has no majesty about him except the majesty of love; a God who is accessible to all and who brings those on the edge of society into the centre of his circle; a God crying in the world’s dark, whose tears we must dry; a God who seems so small, so vulnerable, and yet is large enough to hold the universe in his embrace.” O come, let us worship. AMEN.