Christmas Day 2016

Christmas Day 2016 St Mary Magdalene Madingley


Considering the fact that I am reasonably tall, I have comparatively small hands and feet. To give you an indication of this, when I was married, I wore a size 3 in shoes. My mother told me it was the result of having aristocratic forbears, but she added the caveat, “But they didn’t leave you any money, so don’t get excited.” I was reminded of this recently, when I saw a question on the BBC website in response to one of their ‘Who do you think you are?” programmes. The question was, “Do you have royal blood in your veins?” Now I knew this was a trick question; the answer is that a large percentage of us probably do, because if you go back enough generations, the stock from which we spring is very limited, given that the size of the population was much, much smaller than it is now.


What on earth does this have to do with Christmas? Has the pressure of the season finally got to my limited supply of brain cells and made me lose my sanity completely? Actually, there is a strong connection to the story of Jesus’ birth. Two of the three gospels which give us the accounts of this momentous event, [and from which, when we combine them, we get our full story of what happened], contain genealogies which show where Jesus’ origins lay. They are different, but that is because the writers were seeking to prove different aspects of Jesus’ being. Saint Matthew is at pains to point out that Jesus has royal connections, by tracing the line back to King David, from whom it was known the promised Messiah would come. Saint Luke, on the other hand, is wanting to underline Jesus’ humanity, and traces his line right back to the first human beings who ever inhabited the earth, and as a result, to God, who created them in the first place.


And yet….  Jesus was born not just in temporarily humble circumstances by having a stable as his first home, with the expectation of moving into more suitable accommodation later.  The truth is that Mary his mother was a nobody. A northener, for goodness sake. [And I can get away with saying that because I am of northern stock myself.] The first people who greeted his birth were a bunch of shepherds, who were pretty near the bottom rung of the ladder of society at that time. God seemed to have made some unsuitable choices for the arrival of his son on earth. No leading obstetricians attending his birth, or soft cradle in a royal palace for him.


By arranging for Jesus to be born in obscurity, God ignored all conventional human expectations. This was a sign of things to come;  Jesus spent his life taking little notice of what religious people considered to be the correct behaviour for the Messiah, or a prophet, or any other religious leader. What Jesus revealed was a remarkable, joyous freedom from the demands of other people, and showed a total lack of preoccupation with his own status, his own glory.


So that first Christmas Day was a rather basic affair, setting the scene for what was to come later. A new life coming into the world in the midst of a bustling town, crammed to the limits with visitors, noisy and fraught, with people scurrying around to make sufficient provision for all those extra mouths to be fed and beds to be  found.  But none of them were paying any attention to this new-born baby; they were far too busy.


The first Christmas Day for his family was far from our concept of a perfect Christmas Day. For we do have an idea of what the ultimate Christmas experience is, and we treat the whole thing as less a religious feast to be celebrated, and more like a deadline which has to be reached. Now I’m not a Scrooge; I enjoy all the wonderful food and the present buying and packing. If you’re anything like me, in order to ensure nothing and no-one is overlooked, we not only write lists, but a list of the lists.  But it really does not have to be perfect. If we need any encouragement to relax, then all we  need to do is to reflect on, to include, that joyous freedom which this birth heralded.


For God, by stepping into history in a manner which caught everyone by surprise, grabs our attention with the cries of this new-born boy. He calls on us to think again about who we are, where we have come from, and what we might be. Above all, if only we will listen to him, he simplifies our lives, showing where we have lost the vision of what God intended us to be. He has not come to add extra stress to our lives, but freedom, liberty, and the joy which comes from realizing that we are all children of God.


So what if the turkey is not as perfectly cooked as Mary Berry’s, and I forget to serve one of the side dishes I had planned? {I always do that!} My culinary inadequacies and absent-mindedness will soon pass into history. God becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ is not just a rescue, but a fulfilment of humanity; here we recognize our value and high born status, not according to earthly standards, but according to those of God himself.  The coming of Jesus tells us that we are loved and valued by God, despite our shortcomings, and that is true not just today and tomorrow, but for eternity. Now that is what I call a Christmas present.