Once a year, we and millions of others, turn aside from our preoccupations with whatever is filling our anxieties, and join together in a community of wonder. And the wonder keeps us wide-eyed, expectant, open to a life that is much more than we can account for, that always exceeds our expectations, that is always beyond anything we can make.
Of course, birth does that – any birth. But soon birth, any birth will be absorbed into business as usual, and the miracle lies hidden under late-night feedings, dirty nappies, inconvenience, and all the natural fussings and frettings that go with bringing another human life onto the planet. So how is it that there is this other birth, this birth of Jesus which rocks us back onto our heels, year after year after year, in astonishment and gratitude and worship? And the answer is: this is no ordinary birth, this isn’t just any birth. The baby’s mother and step-father, the shepherds and the wise men, why, even the angels themselves, were all convinced that God had entered human history in the birth of that boy. And it is no bad thing that each year we celebrate the coming of God-in-the-flesh amidst a welter of festivities, of crass greed, of commercialism, of relatives we hardly see at any other time of year, of feasting and drinking, of dancing, of garish lights and decorations: this is the context God came to. This is the mess God entered, in the glorious birth of Christ. So let me ask you a question this Christmas: “What would it be like for God to really grab hold of you?” And another similar: “What would you do if God caught up with you?” Would you be worried? Fearful? Anxious? Frightened? I don’t know whether you have ever tried putting a cat out who didn’t want to go? There you are, reaching for him, trying to shoo him towards the open door, through which an icy blast is blowing, and the cat thinks, ‘this is not going to happen’. Like greased lightning, he’s off, behind the sofa, under the curtains …you get there, reach out to get him, and he eludes you again… and so it goes on, till more by luck than judgement you make what would pass for a marvelous full body rugby tackle, lay hold of the blighter, and man-handle the creature out of the door! Phew! Christmas is Christ taking hold of us. He doesn’t cajole, beg, or merely open up the way … NO! He gathers us up and marches across heaven’s threshold with us. You see, this is what we believe happened that first Christmas. The God of the Universe became a tiny baby – he entered our world to be like us. And when we think about it, a wild hope grips us: God is for us, after all. He stands with us and not against us. He knows what it is like to be troubled and depressed. He knows from the inside what it is like to be misunderstood and rejected by family and friends alike. He knows emotional, physical, mental and even spiritual pain. Jesus Christ stands within us, amid our demons and diseases and unbelief. He seeks to love us – whatever the taunts we direct against him. He stands with us in our pride, our jealousy, our sexual seductions, our violence, our religious exploitations, our racism, our hypocrisy and our guilt and shame. He stands with us as we peer into the emptiness in our souls. He sees how much we long and ache for significance. And because he knows and understands, he can stand alongside those whose lives are dark and bleak, and offer such help and hope. Christ, God in the flesh, was made like us in every way. His flesh could be cut, pierced, bleed and bruise. He didn’t float above us, uninvolved. He earthed himself to us – so much so that there was no ethereal glory about him, no halo lighting up the straw, just a wriggling, crying, needy, speechless baby. He got nappy rash and needed to be breast fed. The Creator of the universe became a creature, the smallest thing in his creation. And if we ask why would he do that, why would he travel such a far way to rescue us, well he descended into our mess to lift us up where we belong – with the Glorious Trinity for ever. He lives our life and dies our death on the cross and presents us to the Father in himself as he is raised again from the dead – for he sums up everything we are and do as our Substitutionary Lamb and merciful High Priest. He sums us up perfectly. “As you look into the manger this Christmas, look with irrepressible hope. There, in the face of Christ, you see not only the Father’s self-giving love. There also you see yourself. There in the manger is your humanity laid hold of by Emmanuel. There is your life hidden with Christ. And his victory is your victory, his future is your future, his righteousness your righteousness, his joy is your joy. God has got hold of you, personally and irreversibly. Christmas guarantees it!” (Scrivener) And in so doing, he has delivered us from the 4 darknesses we have found ourselves in:
The devil’s accusations and assaults
Death’s vice-like grip
God’s just and justified anger over our sins
Suffering and temptation
What a hell of a pit he has lifted us out from! Do you fear death? You have no need: Jesus the living Lord, who was dead, but look he is alive for evermore, he is already on the other side – and if the Head has passed into glory, the body is bound to soon follow. Are you afraid of God’s anger? Do you feel there are sins that may not be forgiven? Well, in this regard too, Jesus has summed up the whole of your life, and his wounds have healed you. Are you surrounded by too much temptation? Know this: Jesus has laid hold of you and your life is hidden with Christ in God. All of us dance to a different drumbeat now. Christmas has made all the difference. God has more grace in his heart towards you than you have sin in your life. So, go on, this Christmas: TAKE THE MERCY AND ACCEPT THE HELP: walk right up to the living Christ and receive what he is willing to give. Don’t let this chance slip through your fingers. This is the response God is looking for from each of us. Now is the right time to be helped, now is the time to be rescued, to be saved from all that would spoil not only your Christmas, but your eternal life. Don’t put if off; don’t frustrate the work God wants to do in your life, by coming to him too late. Why not pray: “O Holy Child of Bethlehem Descend to us we pray; Cast out our sin and enter in - be born in us today”.