Reimagining the world - A sermon for a Carol Service
And so this evening we have heard those familiar readings that are being heard in many a church this day not just in Devon or even Britain but across the continents of this globe.
And yet if we sink into nostalgia we do the story a disservice. for at every turn the story has challenged our all too comfortable views of ourselves and our world.
What do I mean by this? I think what strikes me about the story is that this world changing event, this Divine invasion of love, takes place away from the places of political, economic and religious power.
Indeed its beginnings are with the shame of a young teenage girl for whom even life itself is on the line. And with her is a man, a tradesman, whose self respect has surely been hit by the circumstances of the girl's pregnancy. They are just ordinary people who are bearing an extraordinary load.
And now from remote Nazareth, they have journeyed to the man's ancestral home down south in Bethlehem. And it is there possibly in a peasant family home - for the word kataluma often translated as inn, is elsewhere used by Luke to speak of a guest room - that Jesus is born.
Now I believe that he is born with love all around him in good Palestinian tradition. But what of the visitors to whom we have been introduced by our scripture readings? Shepherds may in our eyes be honourable men. But this was in a culture in which they were the sort of people you kept your distance from. Every prejudice uttered today against travellers could have been utilised in those days against shepherds.
But should we be surprised? After all in her song, Mary had foretold a role reversal with the powerful being brought down and the powerless being lifted up, with the poor being fed and the rich sent empty away. A new order surely with this child welcomed by those often regarded as scum whilst the elite are conspicuous by their absence.
And then there's men from the east. Men of different ethnicity and different faith traditions, come to the Christ child whilst the Temple and Israel's King are conspicuous by their absence at least until the King feels threatened and responds with violence. See here there are no "No Go" areas. Christ has come for all peoples. He is the rebuke for those who would treat those who are other as lesser. He is to be revealed as Lord of all peoples rather than a tribal or national leader.
And then how does it leave us? The fourteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart wrote;
"We are all meant to be mothers of God for God is always needing to be born."
In other words, this story does not belong solely to the past but is also for us today. God made flesh in Bethlehem needs to be born in us so that we can see the world with new eyes, so that we can be enabled to reimagine both God's world and our place within it. For this story which refused to be conformed to the norms of Palestine two thousand years ago, is a living story which dares to call us to move from seeing that which we are and that which the world around us is, as the only way things can be. Instead we are called to imagine new ways of being and living.
And the power for that comes from the reality of God made flesh. Some years ago, Desmond Tutu said these words;
'Of course, there are times when you say, Oh God, we know you are in charge, why don't you make it slightly more obvious? But there was no question for us that the God we worshipped was a God who didn't give you good advice from a safe distance. When you went in a fiery furnace, God didn't just say it would be a good thing if you put on asbestos, protective clothing. Our God was Immanuel, coming into the fiery furnace. There is a wonderful story of the Jew who was taunted by the Nazi guards and made to clean out the toilets and stand in the filth while they said - where is your God now? And he says, "He is in the muck with me."
Now without doing that Jew the disservice of Christianising him, he was onto something very powerful, God with us. For as Christians we see that revealed in Jesus. So believing him to be present with us, we are called to let him be born in us today. And then with his help we can respond to the wonder of his coming by embarking on the journey of reimagining the world and our place within it.