Isaiah 9:2-7 Psalm 96 Titus 2:11-14 Luke 2:1-20
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Just about everyone is happy about the birth of a child, from great grandparents to older siblings and everyone in between, friends and neighbours too, even strangers, there is something life bringing about a little child that invades the hearts of all who see them. But sadly not everyone is happy; Herod for instance. And Mary was a bit perplexed, understandably, she wasn’t married, she hadn’t even had sex and here she was mysteriously pregnant, at probably the worst time in her life, it must have been really inconvenient given all that was going on. Her husband to be – try explaining it to him – and her mum and dad, “O my God, what will they say”. But she didn’t say ‘No’ to her unplanned pregnancy, inconvenient as it no doubt was, she did have the assurance of an angel, but was that vision really real or did she only imagine it. All told she didn’t change her mind. Jesus was born when many, far too many, are not; thank you Mary and every mother who carries her pregnancy to term; and we pray and care for those women who don’t, theirs is not an easy choice either. When a child is conceived we don’t know what he or she or ‘they’ will become; a great person or a dissolute slob or anything in between. He, she and ‘they’ should be given a chance at life because we were given that chance by God. What if Mary had backed-out as apparently would now be her right, that is, the right to control her own body, when of all women she genuinely had had no control of her body ? I hate to think of it !
But she didn’t, she gave birth, after riding a donkey for days on end, on a journey she probably didn’t want to take. Many women have suffered like her. Pregnancy in times of civil unrest and war are probably the worst times, displaced people often landing-up alone in a concentration or a refugee camp and enduring all its privations for years. The Holy Family did become refugees and languished for a long time in Egypt waiting for a regime change back home. No joy there just daily anguish and prayers to God about their child. I often wonder if I had been born just thirty or so miles further south across the English Channel what my life would have been like, would I have been ‘inconvenient’ ? I don’t think I would have survived.
But Mary and Joseph were made of sterner stuff and they accepted the responsibility of bringing the Child into the world who would cause them great heartache, and at the same time would free the world of Sin, defeat Death, and open the way to Eternal Life; but even knowing that wouldn’t there be days of doubt. Of course there would because the Holy family was human and they thought the way you and I think. Sometimes we doubt.
Jesus was born into the real world, not too different from ours. He wasn’t born as a fabled Prince Charming, living in a palace, destined to find His beautiful Princess, and with a Fairy Godmother to make everything go in His favour. No ! He was born into a very ordinary family, which was tight on cash, at the lower end of society, in an ‘occupied territory’ subject to the whims of a colonising superpower. His destiny would lead the Baby Jesus to that Cruel Mistress the Cross; not to a life of ‘happily ever after’.
You probably all know of St. Augustine of Hippo, he was an African of Berber descent. He lived in the fourth and fifth centuries and was a great theologian and philosopher, his thoughts set the doctrine of the Church for centuries. When he was a young man he was living a pretty good life, born into the upper class, he was a bit dissolute, being a good time Charlie and having a son by his mistress whom he later deserted. He eventually converted to a sober Christian life after reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans, particularly Romans 13:13-14 “Live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires”. He is said to have asked to be saved ‘but not yet’. It seemed to him to be ‘inconvenient’, life was going good, why change now, do it later.
Is this an inconvenient time for you to receive Jesus again, either as the Innocent Child or as the Innocent Saviour ? Now I don’t think you are engaged in the early lifestyle of Augustine but is living the Gospel top of mind and ingrained in your habits ? And this is not the pot calling the kettle black, because I have had just about all the failings a person can have, although many we do not see as failings but just as who we are. It’s not until we get outside of ourselves that we can truly see who we are and what needs to change. Change is always inconvenient but this is a great time to make it. New Year’s resolutions these are not, these are Christian Confessions inspired by the Birth of our Saviour, a joyous time especially because in His Birth comes freedom and a new life for us, for our family, for our friends. And not only we who are living but those who have crossed the Great Divide already.
The Christmas story does have all the elements of a fable, the Low-Born Child being found to be the Prince of Peace, the Righteous King, who rules for ever and ever with Compassion. The thing is the Christmas story is not a fable it is a true story and one that we can grasp, relish and be joyful in because the Christmas story has all the promise of a Wonderful Life for ever and ever after. Tonight enter the Stable, see the Christ Child, rub shoulders with the shepherds, listen and feel the warmth from the animals, and then go out and tell everybody what you have seen and heard. Amen.