Text: Luke 2:1-14
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This Church has never been a warm church. Over the years we have tried almost every kind of heating, with the possible exception of a bonfire in the middle of the Nave – we have tried electric panel heating by your knees, oil radiators, and a big old boiler.
And now, we have something that actually works. Infrared heating delivered from chandeliers in the middle of the aisle: unobtrusive, economical and a return design-wise to the overhead chandeliers we saw in photos of the Church in the 1920s. Whilst no-one is ever going to come to midnight mass in a T-Shirt and Shorts, this form of heating certainly takes the edge off and economically does the job.
And in doing so, it further takes us away from the true understanding of the first Christmas. We all have these images in our heads of a cosy stable, surrounded by meek and gently lowing animals and all too easily forget the reality of a cave, the draughts, the smell – goodness me the smell! and the cold.
Hot countries: cold nights. It might not have been quite as “Northern European” as Christina Rosetti wrote about in her beautiful and haunting carol “In the bleak midwinter” but it was cold, O so cold.
Saint Francis created the first live nativity to show to the people of the time the reality of the Incarnation: for the poor themselves to identify with the Christ: a tableau which brought to life the hardship of God pouring himself out into this world: the words of the Kenotic Hymn in Paul’s letter the the Phillipians is usually taken to refer to the Passion of Christ, and his kenosis, his pouring himself out on the Cross, but let us reflect for a moment on this very night of the action of God,
Make your own the mind of Christ Jesus:
Who, “being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross”.
And for this God raised him high, and gave him the name which is above all other names; so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The most radical idea in this or any other faith in the world is the awesome, unlikely, challenging notion that God should so love us, that he would give it all up and step into this world.
Not “direct from afar”, not “send angels” or “send prophets” but come amongst us. A risky guesture, an acceptance of the vulnerability that makes up our lives.
God “did not count equality with God something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are” – not in charge, but subject. Subject to all of the sensations, emotions, challenges of our lives.
When you’re angry with God for stuff that’s happened in your life: the loss of someone you love, illness, change, turmoil, the very nature of what appears to be a cruel world, ask yourself why you still choose to shake your fist as the skies when he experienced it all too: loss, poverty, hardship, seeking asylum, and being reveiled for who he was and what he had to say of God’s love.
He has been there before you. He knows what you experience, and he still loves you, no matter how angry you feel at him.
As we place the bambino into the crib scene at the end of this Mass,and gaze around these sparkly lights in this (well, relative) warmth, we should remind ourselves of the reality of this miracle: of God choosing himself to separate himself from himself and to be a part of us.
For we are loved. You are loved. And this Christmas, that love will warm the very cockles of your heart.