On the eve of Christmas, we remember the pregnant Mary, thrust into a situation of great vulnerability, in a time of great uncertainty. We remember the unborn Christ, in a situation of great peril, childbirth was then and still is a dangerous endeavour. We remember the promises he was born into, a saviour with all the expectation of greatness at a time when the whole world was jostling for power and influence at the point of a sword.
Most of the known world was captive to the Roman empire, rebellion’s and insurrections were common, and any people who sought to rescue the Jewish nation from the Romans ended up suffering a cruel fate.
Into this troubled and violent world came God, not as a conquering hero, not as the all-powerful, untouchable king, but as a vulnerable baby. God’s response to a people suffering under the yoke of oppression was to enter the world clothed in the same vulnerability as those he came to save. You see the world didn’t need another conquering hero, it needed someone to show us how to love, to remind us that God loves us first, and we need to love him first in response.
The world today seems little changed, we still have uncertainty, risk and harsh times hanging over our heads. Many of us will have a warm and comfortable Christmas, but even in this wealthy country, years of austerity mean that behind many a door, Christmas is a time of going without, of being left out. Increasing numbers don’t even have a door to hide their poverty behind.
It is at times like this, when things seem dark and troubled that the story of the nativity is most poignant. Any number of bad things could have befallen the baby Jesus, and indeed many did. His heavily pregnant mother was forced to travel on the whim of the Roman Emperor, a jealous king Herod sought to have him killed, and went so far as to murder many of his peers. The sacred family sought relative safety in Egypt as refugees.
But in the darkness, the hope represented in the light of the world, persisted. Joseph and Mary did not give up, they nurtured and cared for Jesus despite the dangers. We too, in times of great darkness are called to nurture and care for the vulnerable, to reach out to others. To respond to fear and risk, danger and crisis, with love and compassion, hope and concern.
The only way to consistently do this, is to follow the example of the shepherds and the three wise men. By first of all seeking out the Kingdom of God, by coming first to worship at his feet. In the light of the kingdom of God we can have confidence that our lives have purpose, that the troubles we encounter can be overcome, that the lives of those who we have the opportunity to touch can be changed. The example of the Christ child who with the most impossible and heart wrenching task, did not clothe himself with strength and invulnerability but as a child with weakness and vulnerability. He suffers with us and for us.
Christmas is recognised as a time for family, we meet up and spend time with those closest to us, but the promise of Christmas is that if we really want to love others, we must first place ourselves in a position of vulnerability before God.
If we want to love our family, if we want to love those who are closest to us, whom we care most about, the best way to do that is by first of all bringing ourselves to worship the one whom Christmas is all about, the one who shows us that, even in the darkest times, even when everything is at risk, hope shines like a candle.
The promise of Christmas is, when we are most vulnerable and cannot hide our faults and intolerances, or ignore those of the people around us, when there are too many opinions and not enough gravy or compassion.
When our goodwill seems to be wasted, when we seem to be all alone in the midst of the tension and bustle of Christmas, the promise of Christmas is that if we embrace the weakness and vulnerability of the Christ child, if we lay ourselves down in the hands of God and look to him first, then hope is possible, love is possible.
Our fears become opportunities to rest, to act, in the love only God can bring. You see, if we really want to reach out to others, if we really want to make this world a better, fairer, safer place, then our love for others must first be drawn from the deep well of our love for God.
It is only worshiping at the feet of the Christ child that drives the darkness of this world away. In being here, in choosing to usher in Christmas in worship of our saviour, in seeking first the kingdom of God, we few, we happy few, have chosen well. Let us now go out and share with others the light and love that we have received here.