So familiar are we with the Birth Narrative of Jesus, that we cannot be scandalised or surprised by it. We cannot mock it because we have much invested in it. So we stand and listen to this heart warming story not wholly perceiving any longer how shocking or mad it would sound to the first century listener that God will be born as one of us. So familiar are we with this story that we are not shocked by Mary bearing for all humanity ‘God with us’. (hark at her) they would have said shortly before stoning her, after all they said the same of her son! Who does this child of a carpenter think he is! And look at what happened to him!
We are used to step families, single parents and children born out of marriage (after all I don’t recall going to Adam and Eve’s wedding at Croydon Registry Office), we no longer have access to understanding the disgrace Mary was facing, and the courage she had in being obedient to God and not to the world.
Though saying that, on disgrace, I recall my sister falling pregnant at 17 out of wedlock and my mother and father being scandalised by this news and though they quickly accepted this, they had to work as quickly to process what the neighbours would say. A marriage was quickly arranged! Though short lived…
However, in Upper Norwood we are distanced emotionally from how shocking this story is, and the emotional complexities involved in realising it and the telling of it.
Yet, if I am to be critical, we seem to be distanced from so many stories these days, from the shock and pain of other realities, from empathising with the courageous who seek to build a greater world and they are distanced from our lives.
A great chasm has come between us and the needs of our neighbours, all while having a new narrative informed by so much information in the modern world that all of a sudden, nothing is surprising, nothing is off the table. We have been given permission through the great commandments to be a generous and loving people, we have permission not to condemn or be judgemental. Of course other people’s lives might not be our own, other people’s ways might raise the odd eyebrow, but we are not going to abuse and curse, we are not going to revile or stone individuals because of what they write, or say, we are not going to ostracise another because of their heritage or language.
And in part I believe that we are not going to be judge and executioner within our Christian Tradition because an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’
We have been told not to be afraid of the unexpected, or of the new thing in our lives. We have been told that with God, is love, and that love was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. We have been told that God made us in his image male and female. We have been told that there is no longer male or female, slave or free. For we are one In God and that is how we might become as the people of God, and the God bearers in our generation.
We will soon inter the ashes of our brother Ian into the grounds of this Church. Despite his failings, and his ability to make a 5 minute job last three years, I cannot for a moment fault Ian nor suggest that he failed in his Christian witness. To a fault he would seek to close that chasm between himself and the needs of others. He was rightly scandalised by the injustice in our society and community, but prayerfully he was constant in looking for God to be revealed amongst us, perhaps failing to see most imminently that God was being revealed in his own life and actions towards the poor and needy, to the vulnerable and weak.
Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell are the four great themes traditional we remember during Advent and though we might have once seen them as tools by which we would order our lives, they have become more of a companion to our spiritual journey and the tool of the Christian is that short sentence “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’ When we wake from our advent sleep, we too must take the Christ to our heart, and be guided by his light. Not to condemn the world but to love it back into consciousness of how awesome it is that God is interested in all that he has made. Close the chasm between you and neighbour, between yourself and God, pray with me that as we come to greet the Christ Child, when he is born, we will not be afraid, but that he finds us running to Bethlehem to greet him.