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Christmas Day 2020

December 4, 2020

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Happy Christmas! I’ve a joke for you, it’s not a great joke but it’s timely.
Why couldn’t Mary and Joseph take part in the conference call in Bethlehem?
Because there was no Zoom at the inn.

I’m pretty sure that had I told that joke last year, most of us wouldn’t have known what Zoom was. This year we’ve all been finding out and learning new ways of keeping in touch, of communicating from a distance, working together though separated. In this difficult, anxious and painful year, while socially distanced, we’ve been learning about getting connected and staying connected.

And Christmas is and always has been about connection and touch. In the birth of Christ, God seeks connection with us, very directly, to come within touching distance. Someone has said that Almighty God, who speaks through the majesty of creation, through the sweep of history and through the call of the Prophets, longs to speak and connect with us, but so often we’re not listening, we’re not paying attention. So since God had tried mighty and loud, he decided this time to come to us really quietly, to make himself tiny, to attract us. God became a new born child in such a quiet and humble way, in such a humble space, that anyone, even the smallest child could approach him and look level-eyed into the face of God. Even a child might reach out and touch.

There is a moment of glorious singing, from the angels, to the shepherds on the hill-side. And the shepherds run to the stable to see this thing that had come to pass. Their eyes are opened to see the glory of it all. But most people that night didn’t notice or care. In the busyness of the town caught up in the census, in the stresses of getting through the day and making a living, there wasn’t room for the holy family, no head space or heart space for concern about them.

We gather today to notice, to give thanks and celebrate the birth of Christ. Because this birth changed the course of human history and has changed the course of our lives. God has come to us, has lived with us, died for us and has risen again, to save us and to open the way for each of us to forgiveness and new life, to life in all its fullness and eternal life.

Going back to the joke, no Zoom at the inn, it relies on people recognising that phrase, ‘no room at the inn’. Which is probably kept alive in popular imagination by school nativity plays and children taking it in turns to respond to Joseph knocking on the door, ‘No room’, until finally someone says, there’s no room, but you can go round the back to the stable. So Jesus, the Saviour of the world is born in a stable, as the carol says, ‘And his shelter was a stable and his cradle was a stall.’

From earliest times Christians have reflected on the unusual circumstances of this holy birth, for which there was no room, no hospitality and have drawn the analogy with our hearts and lives. St Augustine in the 4th century said, ‘God wants to give us the gift of his son, but how can him if our hands are already full?’ Our hands can be so full of possessions and so busy with other things that we can’t reach out to the Christ child. And our hearts and lives can be so full of cares, of fears, of upset or resentment, of feeling sorry for myself, living in the past, or living in the future that there is no room, for this wonderful gift that God wants to give us.

But if our hearts and minds are ready, open, expectant, knowing our need, then we have room, we can be hospitable. Our hearts can be his manger, our lives can be his stable. Jesus can be born in us, we can receive this gift of life and joy. St Augustine says, ‘What does it avail me if this birth does not happen in me? That it should happen in me is what matters.’ That this birth should happen in us is what matters.

This is the message of Christmas, in this difficult year as in every year. God is asking for room in our lives. So that he can be with us, connected, Emmanuel. And this is for everyone, no one is excluded, rich and poor, old and young, all people, all nations.

And the message is that we are connected with one another. We’ve learnt this year a profound truth that we can’t be safe and secure unless everyone is safe and secure. We’ve been learning about caring for one another, about our connectedness through our humanity. We’ve seen how at our best we care for one another in our need, we’ve seen sacrifice, service and love.

As we come to the end of this year, lets connect again and stay connected with God who loves us so much that he sends his Son to be with us, and connect again with all that’s best in our humanity.

I’ll close in prayer, by former Archbishop, William Temple,
We pray you, Lord, to purify our hearts and lives
That they may be worthy to become your dwelling-place
Let us never fail to find room for you
But come and abide in us
That we also may abide in you
For at this time you were born into the world for us,
And live and reign, King of kings and Lord of lords,
Now and for ever. Amen.