Luke 2:1-15 11.30pm Midnight Christmas Eve 2018
By porthkerryandrhoose, Jan 11 2019 09:10AM
When you think about it, we are doing a very strange thing tonight. It's nearly midnight and here we are sitting in church. We don't do that any other night of the year, and yet here we are. Why? Perhaps it's the sense that tonight is somehow different. It feels magical, special, like we're on the cusp of a time when anything is possible. There's peace, wonder, expectation. We've heard anew the beautiful story of a baby born against all the odds, shining angels singing heavenly songs and surprised shepherds leaving their flocks to go and gaze on this wonderful child. It's a perfect picture.
But before we know it, tomorrow will come, and it's likely that it will bring broken toys, crying children, unwanted presents, family arguments. If not in your household, then certainly in others. Domestic violence rises, loneliness increases and those in the depths of poverty feel their deprivation like never before. And what relevance will tonight's story have then? None at all, if all we see is the school nativity picture perfect scene. But thankfully there's a whole lot more going on than that.
I wonder if you've seen the latest Banksy image, painted on a garage in Port Talbot? I was especially interested in it because I served the first 3 years of my ministry in Port Talbot and have fond memories of the place and its people. It's painted on two sides of the corner point of the garage. If you look at it from one side you can see a little child with a sledge, joy on his face, opening his mouth to taste the snowflakes falling all around him. A picture perfect Christmas scene. But when you turn the corner and look at the other side, you quickly realise that it's not snow falling on the child, but ash from a bin that's been set alight. It's a profound dose of reality, which has a far wider impact than the pretty Christmas scene could ever do. But you wouldn't see it unless you looked around the corner.
That's exactly what we need to do with the Christmas story, if its message is to have an impact in the harsh reality of life. We need to look around the corner, look behind the tinsel and cute children to find a message so profound it can change the way we see everything.
Let's start with the manger. Picture the brown wooden box with its bright yellow straw, and lying on top of it, wrapped in brilliant white cloths is a chubby, pink, bright eyed baby. That's the picture, isn't it? But turn the corner and you see the reason why he was there, rather than in a cot in Nazareth. The land was ruled by the occupying powers of the Romans, who governed with the heavy hands of military force. People were not free. When the command came for everyone to register at the town of their birth, they had no choice but to drop everything and go. Joseph was a carpenter, running his own business, but he had to down tools and make the 100 mile journey to Bethlehem. It was a long way, no wonder he took his wife with him. After all, the scandal surrounding her pregnancy left her vulnerable, he had to keep an eye on her. But once they got to Bethlehem, the place was in chaos. People everywhere. It was only a small town. It couldn't cope with the influx of people, and who would want these two, if they had heard the rumours? It was a frightening, confusing and very dark time. But this is where God chose to be born. He didn't go to the best hospital with the finest midwives and a block on the press. He chose to be born into the chaos of ordinary life. And that tells us something very profound, when our lives seem anything but picture book perfect. God came into the real world, and he still operates in the real world today.
What about the visitors to the manger? We heard about the shepherds in our reading, hearing the heavenly host and rushing to see the baby. The image most of us have of the shepherds is of men in stripy dresses with fluffy white sheep under their arms, smiling at the holy infant. But if we look around the corner, we discover that shepherds weren't such cuddly visitors. In first century Judea shepherds were the lowest of the low. They lived outside of the regular communities, they didn't have time to go to the temple or synagogue and they eked out a living on the hillsides, staying in the natural caves. If a shepherd came near to you, you would keep a tight hold of your purse. They are not the people you would want near your new baby. Yet God welcomed them. In fact he did more than that. He invited them in. It wasn't that they just turned up and he didn't want to send them away. He sent angels to tell them to go to Bethlehem and see the special baby. You see God isn't just for the respectable people. When as an adult Jesus was challenged about why he spent time with the tax collectors and sinners he said "It's not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick". He didn't come for those who think their lives are all sorted out, but for those who know they need him. Your complicated life and the things you might have done don't put Jesus off. He came to earth for you.
What about the other visitors? We didn't read about them tonight, but we know they came. The exotic visitors from the east with their slightly perplexing presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They add colour and mystery to our nativity scene. But look around the corner and you will find a far more sinister backdrop. For while these important men were willing to travel for months to see Jesus, there was another king, much closer to hand, whose motives were far less honourable. His name was Herod and in his book there was only space for one king and it was him. In an attempt to get rid of Jesus he had all the Jewish baby boys slaughtered in a hideous act of genocide. The pain he caused is unimaginable. But his presence in the story is a reminder that not everyone welcomed Jesus back then, and not everyone welcomes him now. Many prefer to be the king in their own lives and so reject Jesus' rule. His presence prompts us to ask ourselves the question, do I accept Jesus as king over me? Or would I rather he stay rosy cheeked in the manger.
The final part of the Christmas picture we're going to look at is the name given to this miracle baby. Or rather the names. We have a fascination with baby names. Go on the internet and you will find all sorts of articles about which baby names will be popular next year and which names are totally out of fashion. We know names are important. None more so than the names given to this baby. His given name 'Jesus' means God saves and that would be the work he came to do, dying on the cross for the sin of the world. Another name is Immanuel. It means 'God is with us'. As we look around the corner of the nativity picture, we discover a God who is with us, who came to earth, to our messy, chaotic lives to live among us. He didn't hide himself away in palaces and meet only the most respectable of society. He invited the lowest of the low alongside the rich and powerful into his family. He invites you. And that's the difference tonight can make tomorrow and in the middle of January and when you are struggling and life is hard. Jesus was born and lived and died for you. He can be with you by his Spirit when you place your trust in him. He isn't just a part of the mirage of Christmas, gone even before the year turns. He is real, and you can know him yourself and find in him hope that doesn't fail, strength for the hard times and lasting joy in knowing that your future is safe in him.
So don't just see the cute nativity picture of Jesus this Christmas. Look around the corner and see the God who came to this messy world for you and for me.