A boy in a manger - A sermon for Christmas Day based on Luke 2: 1-20
It’s all about a baby boy. Lying in a manger he is the epitome of helplessness. No control over body function but a tendency to exercise those lungs to bursting point when hungry or just uncomfortable - that is what he’s about.
His dependency on a mother’s care is absolute. He just needs to be held, to be loved, to be comforted, to be cared for. That is all that matters to him. Oh sure he is born into a harsh world of conflict but that does not matter a fig to him. A Jewish baby boy he has no interest in your race or nationality. You can be a a fellow Jew, a Roman or even a Palestinian, these things matter not to him. Nor does he care about our gender or our respectability - even our lack of it. He just wants to be loved.
In that he is not dissimilar from us in our infancy. But whereas we easily lose our innocence and become cynical an judgemental he never loses it. The innocent acceptance of all is something he takes into adulthood and even to a public execution.
All around him are the signs of rejection but he does not care. The circumstances of his birth are the stuff of gossip. His early teenage mother is at the centre of a scandal and the equivalents of News International journalists are all over the case but he doesn’t care. He just wants her love. And in times ahead he will be the defender of tainted women.
And when his first visitors are shepherds is he bovvered. No way! It doesn’t matter to him that smelly shepherds were at this time regarded as shift dishonest people not deemed fit to provide evidence in a court. After all they took the time to visit him and to make a fuss of him when the respectable had gone walkabout. In fact he’s going to go on mixing with the sort of people who are no better than they ought to be. And religious professionals will tut about it but does he care! As Desmond Tutu puts it his standards are “quite low!”
Later he will be visited by astrological types from the East - foreigners whose religious understandings he will be told are quite mixed up. And even if their gifts are just a little bit strange for a baby he will be grateful that they gave him the time. And later he will build bridges with another group of semi foreigners with upside down religion, the Samaritans even telling a story in which one of these despised peoples bears a passing likeness to himself.
But of course he will not be immune to harsh side of life. Israel’s King, by now a paranoid tyrant, will seek to kill him. Herod - please note not a real Jew but an Idumean hated by many of the people he ruled over - will use his soldiers like many a despot if not to save the regime to ensure dynastic succession. And this baby will no longer be safe in the town in which he was born but have to flee as a refugee becoming one of those asylum seekers against whom the Daily Mail of his day would doubtless rage. And when he moves to Nazareth he will be moving but an hours walk from the scene of wanton destruction by imperial Rome at Sepphoris in the aftermath of Herod’s death - whose rebuilding at least gave some work to craftsmen such as Joseph. And yes his teachings will be at their sharpest when it comes to exposing injustices and cruelty for he knows these things are crippling to victims and also to perpetrators.
And later in adulthood he will just go on involving all sorts of people in an undemanding cycle of love. From the beginnings of his ministry when he proclaims good news for the poor he will be in solidarity will all manner of outcasts. Yet he will not champion violence against the wrongdoers. Even Roman military officers will be helped in their moments of need. So when we envisage Jesus as being on the side of the good guys he never hates the bad guys. Perhaps Will Campbell has it right. The only white man present when Martin Luther King formed his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Campbell later sought to minister to klansmen and rednecks over whisky explaining when challenged about this;
“We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway.”
And that’s the way that Jesus will live even though such inclusive love will make him enemies and ultimately lead to his torture and a public, humiliating execution.
But all of that is for the future. The question now is will you give your love to this bundle of humanity? Will you like him embrace humanity even in its less appetising forms and even when it disappoints? Will you take the risk of journeying with and following this little boy? And will you open your hearts and minds to the claim that God is uniquely in this boy? And that in him we meet the truly human and the truly Divine, that in him we God made flesh, the means of our salvation and the pattern for our living.