The reality of the birth of Jesus
Mary Copping, 25 December 2019
Isaiah 9: 2, 6–7; Luke 2: 1–14
Here we have the nativity – the word means ‘the occasion of a person’s birth’. So today we celebrate the occasion of Jesus’ birth: God’s Son coming as a baby to live with us, and ultimately to die for us.
St Francis of Assisi put together the first nativity scene on Christmas Eve in 1223. He did it after a visit to the Holy Land when he saw the place of Christ’s birth. He wanted to place the emphasis at Christmas on Christ, the Son of God, being born. He’s quoted as saying, ‘I want to do something that will recall the memory of that Child who was born in Bethlehem, to see with bodily eyes the inconveniences of his infancy, how he lay in the manger, and how the ox and ass stood by’. He wanted to show the reality of the birth of Jesus.
The reality was that Mary, an unmarried young girl, had told people that she had become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. It won’t have gone down well with her family. Yet she said to the angel who came to tell her, ‘May it be to me as you have said’ with quiet obedience, even though she would have much emotional pain through her pregnancy, the birth and beyond.
There was Joseph who stood by her, staying loyal to Mary even though it would have cost him his good name. There was the baby, God’s Son, born in a stable, amongst the animals. There were simple shepherds out in the fields, greeted by angels to tell them about Jesus. There were wise men who came later with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. As they say, ‘You couldn’t make it up!’
Rose Hudson-Wilkin, former chaplain to her Majesty the Queen and now Bishop of Dover, writes that the Christ child coming amongst us is a sign of hope, peace and joy: God coming to us as a vulnerable infant in need of help in order to survive, dependent on others to meet his needs. This coming of the dependent infant Christ is countercultural in a world where it seems to be every person for themselves, with many divisions. Christ’s coming and his dependence on others remind us of our interdependence, our need to help and support each other.
This coming of the dependent infant Christ is countercultural in a world where it seems to be every person for themselves.
I read the other day of a young girl called Anna, eight years old, who needs to go to America for life-saving cancer treatment. They’ve been crowdfunding to raise the £400,000 hospital costs. But an anonymous donor has now paid the bill directly to the hospital in America, saying they want no recognition and nothing in return; Anna’s plight has touched their hearts. A stranger touched by the need of a little girl, and being able to do something about it, and doing it – wanting to help someone they’ve never met – this is an act to touch people’ hearts and to show there is love in the world, a wonderful act of generosity and kindness.
Yet there seems such lack of love, such division in this world, in this country, for many reasons, including the Brexit situation.
The Christ child being born tells us something different, and shows us a different way to live. At Christmas God comes to us and meets each one of us wherever we are. God comes as light into our darkness, the light of Christ illuminating our lives. And this light, the light of love and friendship, can stream out to others in our dark, divided world.
As we have come to this day of Christ’s birth – we may already feel stressed at all that we have had to do, may feel saddened at painful memories of those lost, or feel hopeful for all that is to come – let us remember that this time is about love and connectedness with others. I wonder, who are the ones we are connecting with at this time, who are the ones we can reconnect with, those we have lost touch with, or those who need our help?
Probably none of us would be able to give £400,000 for a child’s cancer treatment, but for each one of us, there are special ways that we can think more of others, do things for others without reward or recognition, quietly performing what are described as acts of kindness to connect us more with our fellow human beings. We have so much – much more than that little baby had in that stable – but as we help others and reach out to others it is like a stone being dropped in a pond and rippling out to all around us.
We thank God for coming among us all those years ago in his dependence and need; we thank God that he is still with us now; and we ask him to help us acknowledge our dependence on each other and to reach out in love and kindness to those around us. Amen.