The Incarnation is the response of compassionate love to a world gone wrong

Peter Seal, 25 December 2019

Isaiah 9: 2–7; Luke 2: 1–14

Today I invite you to become childlike, as I tell you a special story. It’s about a man like me – a priest; but instead of working in a church like this one, he worked in a hospital, visiting sick people.

I guess we’ve all either spent a night in hospital or visited someone who was staying in hospital. So, for a few moments let’s recall what it feels like to be in hospital. And now, imagine what it would be like to be in hospital today, on Christmas Day.

Well, one Christmas a priest called Stephen, who worked as a hospital chaplain, was visiting sick people. Everything was going well until one of the nurses came up to him, looking worried. ‘One of our children on the children’s ward is very unhappy’, she said. ‘He’s hiding under his bed, and he won’t come out.’

Stephen followed the nurse along the corridor and through a door and, sure enough, when they went through onto the ward there was an empty bed. The nurse pointed to the floor beneath the bed, and Stephen could just make out the shape of a little boy hiding in the darkness.

‘He’s been there for a long time’, said the nurse. ‘We’ve tried everything, but he just won’t come out.’ ‘What’s his name?’ asked Stephen. ‘William’, said the nurse.

Stephen began by trying to talk to William. ‘Hello William’, he said softly. ‘You can’t be very comfortable down there. How about coming out and sitting with me, and we can talk about what’s making you sad.’

But there was silence.

So Stephen tried again: ‘Okay, my friend’, he said. ‘How about just telling me what’s making you sad. You don’t need to come out. I really want to listen to you and find out how you are.’ But again, there was silence. Clearly William didn’t want to budge. After a few more attempts at talking Stephen didn’t know what to do. How could he get William to come out from under the bed?

And then he realised what he had to do. Bending down, he gently knelt on the floor, then lay on his side, then rolled onto his back, and shuffled along so that he got a little nearer to the boy beneath the bed. And then, do you know what he did next? He just lay there, quiet as quiet. Just imagine it.

That’s when a wonderful thing happened. Slowly, slowly, Stephen felt a little hand reaching out to take his. At first he felt it gently … and then Stephen felt the hand grip him tightly. And then he saw two beautiful blue eyes lock onto his.

‘I don’t know about you’, said Stephen, ‘but I’m not very good at lying on hard floors for too long! How about finding a nicer place, and you can tell me everything?’

And then, at last, came a little voice: ‘Okay’.

You may have picked up that that’s a story all about Christmas, about Jesus coming to live with us on earth. God talked to us and tried to get us to talk to him, but in the end he did a very special thing: he came and was with us. As someone expressed it: ‘God so loved the world that he got involved’.

Here is part of a poem by John Bell from the Iona Community:

Light looked down and saw the darkness. ‘I will go there’, said light.
Peace looked down and saw war. ‘I will go there’, said peace.
Love looked down and saw hatred. ‘I will go there’, said love.
So God, the God of light, the prince of peace,
the King of love, came down and crept in beside us.

These simple but profound words remind us that the Incarnation is the response of compassionate love to a world gone wrong.

We remember that the one we describe as our Saviour, Jesus Christ, was born into an occupied land and an oppressed people. God knows the reality of our world, and the complexities, joys and pains of human life. He humbly ‘creeps in beside us’, often unnoticed.

What we can try and do is become better at noticing God’s presence. This year, in this country, perhaps rather more than in other years, we need a renewed sense of God’s presence. We need a good dose of joy, peace and hope.

In recent times, especially, we seem to have become increasingly polarised. Individuals, families and communities are in need of a renewal of mutual concern, understanding and respect. It is into this real situation that God comes again – into the complexity, the joy and the pain of being human.

Together, here in church today, as every Sunday, we are a wonderful mix of folk. People who are ‘leavers’, and people who are ‘remainers’. People who are from different backgrounds, views and convictions. People who voted just the week before last for different political parties. The truth is: Christ came for all people. He came so that people of every identity can find their full identity in him.

The truth is: Christ came for all people. He came so that people of every identity can find their full identity in him.

In times of division the church can embrace diversity and offer a spacious, hospitable place of mutual acceptance and healing.

My Christmas wish for each of us, me included, is that we receive a renewed sense of the reality of God’s presence in our lives. That is, of the God who wants to be with us, whoever we are, whatever we believe, or don’t believe, or find we just can’t believe.

Our God is the one who makes himself small enough to be held in a manger; small enough for a child to see him face to face. Today we rejoice that we can be childlike.