There are 2 major celebrations in the Church – Christmas and Easter. Last Easter none of us would have thought that we could not have had an Easter Service – Good Friday or Easter Sunday. As the pandemic progressed and hit a second wave in the 2nd half of the year there were warnings that Christmas might also be under threat. But here we are. Yes it’s a little bit different to previous years. In fact it’s somewhat symbolic of Mary and Joseph who had to give birth in a barn in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.
Likewise we could not guarantee that there was going to be room in the church for our usual families and visitors.
This scene, of Mary and Joseph with nowhere to stay, has a ring to it in Jesus’ words in Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew: “‘I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Mary and Joseph were strangers, and no one invited them in. And those who shut their doors to Joseph as he looked for room for himself and his pregnant wife, didn’t realise it but they were shutting their doors on God. Remember how the people responded to Jesus in Matthew 25: ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.
When they did not make room for that one pregnant everyday ordinary commoner girl, they did not make room for the maker of heaven and earth to be born among us. And yet, the story of Christmas is a story of good news of great joy for all people. It is not just for those fortunate to be surrounded by family tonight. The good news and joy is not just those who will celebrate by exchanging expensive gifts. Christmas is exceedingly joyful good news for all people because in coming to Mary and Joseph who were themselves lost and left out, God turned the world upside down. For the Christmas story did not start with Mary and Joseph alone in that stable in Bethlehem. The Christmas story did not begin with the angel appearing to Mary, or even with the prophets who prophesised of the event centuries earlier. The Christmas story began with God looking on creation, so lovingly made and so needlessly gone astray. For God loved the world so much that he sent his one and only Son so that whoever believed in him would not perish but receive eternal life.
God’s bold and daring plan coming in human flesh – coming as a servant, not to be served but to serve, God sided with the oppressed and the outcasts, and showed it by coming first to poor and lowly family. The very thought of God, the creator of the universe and all life, becoming human in lowly circumstances is wondrous but unimaginable. Born to an unwed couple.
Born in the lowly circumstances of an animal feeding trough. Soon needing to flee in the middle of the night to avoid Herod’s death sentence – fleeing to Egypt where Israel were held captive as slaves for 400 years in the time of Moses. But it means that God knows you and loves you even as you are, whether you spend tonight alone or sleeping rough or in a house full of extended family.
The miracle of Immanuel, “God with us,” is that we see that even though Mary and Joseph may have been forsaken by others, they were never forgotten by God and even more important, God never abandoned those who abandoned him.
Jesus was raised by Mary and Joseph. They had no status other than being of the line of David The only thing they really had to offer was love for their baby Jesus. Having nothing to offer but love is exactly what the creator of heaven and earth had in mind all along. Love of Jesus.
And we who gather today, gather in the light of God’s love. And that’s so important as we live in a world turn that has been transformed by a baby in a manger whether they realise it or not. That the one who created heaven and earth and all that exists – once found in a stable, and now in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. As we ponder this miracle may it also turn our eyes to see our Lord also in the people in need all around us. The hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the lonely.
And may we come to them in all their need just as our heavenly Father came to us in all our need in this baby born in a manger And it is this vision of the world that is indeed good news of great joy for all people.