Saturday, 24 December 2016

Midnight special

Tonight we celebrate the incarnation and many churches through out the world will have a midnight service as part of that celebration.  This is a traditional service that brings us into the festive day with the traditional Christmas story.  A story that has become commercialised over time so that we see the stable, the inn and the shepherds in a cute over sweet atmospheric package.  Have we lost a sense of what this night of wonder is really about?  Have we lost our visualisation and theological understanding of this event?

In going back through the centuries to the night when a young woman gave birth, not in the roughness of a stable or cave but rather in a family home.  A home that was no doubt housing a large number of relatives who have gathered in town as a result of the census that Rome has called.  The family home that has not seen so many of the family gathered together for many a year. We can probably relate to that sort of atmosphere when we come together as scattered families at special times like weddings, anniversaries, and special family occasions.  Often times it is impossible to accommodate everyone.  People sleeping on floors in lounges, on air mattresses, chaos every where.  If we can imagine that we can begin to realise the chaos in the family home in Bethlehem this night.  Now let us put into the mix the youngest member of the family, heavily pregnant and because Nan has the guest bedroom she has to make do with the main family room.

Of course being in the Middle East at this time of year it gets a bit cold for the animals so they have been brought inside as well, to keep them warm but also to heat the home, despite all the extra people. Uh! Oh! she has gone into labour, no time for medical midwives in this household, lets get down and deliver.  Safe birth! Hallelujah! With no place to put the child, wrap him up in warm clothes (swaddle the child) and lay him in the warmest place, the manger that the cows have been fed from.  This is the true miracle that all of those people were there to assist the couple with the birth and that they found a place out of the cold amidst the warmth of family.  The love, the relationships and the acceptance even at the time of stress and uncertainty.  Hope comes from a loving relationship that is formed from birth and grows into old age and beyond.

Stars of hope birthed in the incarnation.

The acceptance of God within our midst at the moment of birth is an acceptance of love within ourselves.  A love that is capable of transcending all the borders and all the barriers that our fears erect.  The incarnation is the birth of hope in the midst of disarray and anxiety.  It is how we build our communities and remove them from the fears that, if allowed, would destroy our very existence as a community.  We only have to look at the chaos that is America or the ME to see this in action. In creating the space to welcome this Christ child within our crowded and busy lives we begin once more to build with hope.  We allow the unacceptable to come into and be a part of ourselves.  We make room for those things we do not like, we shun and consider to be below us, the outcasts of the world and our own society.  Just as the shepherds, outcast but necessary voices, come to share the blessings of a new birth we welcome the other into our lives.

This is a sign of hope that we can well afford to heed within our own families and communities.  God incarnate is not to be sheltered from the vagaries of life but is to welcome the lowliest and those we have judged to be outcast.  It is we, those who erect the barriers, who will find the hope embedded in this baby.  A hope that will, if we were only to allow it, transcend all of our prejudices and exclusions, all of our negatives, to find a new peace and a new accord as the future breaks upon us. Drawing us into a whole community undivided by prejudice and misunderstanding, a community that sees God in the face of those around us.

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