Sermon St Ambrose Christmas 2017
When we heard our first reading today, we could have got all excited! ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light!’ That sounds good doesn’t it?
‘They rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest’ – yes, still good!
‘The yoke of their burden, the bar across their shoulders has been broken.’ Still great news!
But what is the reason for all this good news? Isaiah tells us, prophesying about the future, that a baby has been born, and authority rests on his shoulders, and he’s got lots of high-sounding names like wonderful counsellor, prince of peace. Isaiah also tells us that the authority of this child will grow and there shall be endless peace. Now that’s something we want isn’t it? So after that reading, we’re all set for a King to sweep into town, full of power!
Then we had our New Testament reading.
It doesn’t start with a royal couple in a palace having a baby. No, a couple travelling late, away from friends and family. The girl is very young, and very pregnant. She doesn’t even have her mum or her sisters with her to help if the baby should start coming. Now this Gospel doesn’t tell us, but the other ones do, that they couldn’t even find anywhere to stay, because so many people had flooded into on for the census. They had to be there because the Roman government had decreed it. Saying no wasn’t an option. So they get to find shelter in a stable, along with the animals. It can get quite cold in December in Bethlehem, with lows of 7degrees Celsius overnight, so it’s just as well, with a baby coming, that they has warm if rather smelly animals to keep them cosy.
But where is this King Isaiah was talking about?
Here’s a young woman, labouring in a stable, trying to avoid cow pancakes as she breathes through her contractions. Here’s her husband, wondering what on earth to do, with no one to help.
Mary must have been given some instructions before she left on her journey, but imagine how frightening it would have been, having her baby without a midwife or friend to support her. I remember my first labour, and even with people to help me it was still frightening as the contractions built up power.
She was prepared though. She had the swaddling bands in her bundle on the donkey, and knew how to care for her tiny baby.
But there was nowhere to put him down – the animals would have rolled on him if he had been on the floor with his Mum, so Mary looked round and spotted the feeding trough, with hay for the animals in it. She put her baby there so she could rest. Maybe Joseph had to keep nudging the curious cows away from the baby who had turned up in their feeding trough.
But the king baby – wouldn’t he be in a golden cradle, with the finest linen?
And how about all the courtiers, coming to honour the new heir?
God sent an angel to tell the shepherds on the hillside about this special baby. The shepherds were not exactly the sort of people who would go into a royal palace, or even a town, if they could avoid it. They were very humble in the society, and probably smelt of sheep and long nights away from washing facilities.
But they knew that if an angel talks to you, something incredible is happening, so they were the first to see the baby. Mary roused herself from her exhausted slumber to listen to what they said, – ‘an angel told us there was a baby!’ they gasped out, speaking on top of one another.
She remembered that angel, that he had told her this would happen. Maybe the months of her pregnancy had been full of worry as she wondered about being an unmarried mother. But then Joseph heard the angel too and married her anyway. Maybe there was still gossip about her at home, so it was better for her to travel with Joseph, rather than stay with her family to have the baby.
When Mary heard that the angel had turned up again, she knew that what he had told her the first time was real, that this child would be the son of God, and would save the people from their sins. She kept these words in her heart, and I think they would have been a comfort to her throughout her life, as she raised Jesus and worried about him.
But, we can ask ourselves, what would God be intending, giving a tiny child to be our King, our ruler, our saviour? There are two things that I want us to think abut. First, that in order for us to relate to God completely, we need to know that God can relate to us. By being born as a vulnerable, helpless baby, suffering hunger and wet nappies, God was totally immersed in humanity. Jesus Gets us, because he is one of us. He knows what human struggle looks like, because he wasn’t born in a palace with servants and security. When he was tiny his family had to be refugees, just like a baby born in Myanmar might be today -knowing only the security of loving parents.
The other thing I want us to ponder this Christmas is that in being born as a tiny baby, Jesus is showing us, right from his first breath on earth, a pattern for our lives. That we can be helpless and humble too, that we can accept help from others, that it’s ok to be needy and to let other people care for us. And that if we accept that for ourselves, we also must accept it for others. It’s ok for them to be helpless and needy too, and we can help them and tend them as Mary tended her new baby.
This Christmas, let’s take the pattern of the infant Jesus and his family, and humble ourselves before God, so as we let other people into our lives the kingdom of heaven will grow around and through us.