Thoughts from the Midnight Mass and Christmas Morning Services 2013
Christmas changes God. Before Christmas, God seems to be a remote figure. Is He an absent father? Is he even an impersonal force? Does he abandon His universe to run on without him? Does he just harangue us for our many shortcomings? Does he stand by doing nothing while human beings suffer and sin and die?
But after Christmas everything changes! God is no longer distant because he has got stuck in. He has become one of us. In Jesus he takes human form. Christmas tells us that He is not content to love us from afar, to wish us well possibly, but never to that extent of doing something about our plight. Then the story goes on to tell us how deep is God's identification with us, as we watch Jesus grow up, work for his living, laugh and cry, suffer and die for us, so that He might also rise and with his resurrection raise us too.
Christmas changes humanity. Are we just animals, with no purpose in a random universe? Lots of people nowadays seems to think it's a good thing to believe this, that it sets us free from restrictive moral and ethical codes and accountability to a higher power. I wish more people did feel accountability to a higher power though. Maybe it would reduce the greed and reckless contempt for others that have brought about bankers' excesses, politicians' expenses, police lies over Plebgate, phone hacking by our journalists and all the rest. Aren't we weary of the degradation of our public life yet? Where can we recover our integrity from if not from our accountability to God? And what are we doing to our kids when we tell them they are nothing but animals, that there really is no point whatever to their existence? I believe our humanity revolts against this tyrannical teaching.
But after Christmas everything changes! Christmas tells us that we are special, that God became one of us and that therefore our faltering, uncertain, confusing human life with all its ups and downs is a fit vehicle for divinity. God doesn't work in spite of our humanity, as some faiths teach, but because of it! We don't have to become depersonalised to know him and serve Him, in fact we are missing the point of Christmas completely if we do that. After Christmas there is no human being, however wrecked they might be by the storms and trouble of life, who is not of infinite value. Believe me I have met some human wrecks in 25 years of ministry! The humanity taken by Jesus at Christmas proves that we will never meet anyone who is beyond the love of God. That is a call to compassion, because this person too shares the humanity of Jesus. This is something we have to take very, very seriously at Christmas time and always.
Christmas changes our suffering. Everything about the first Christmas - the homelessness, the stable, the poverty, the desperate political situation that led Jesus' family to flee to Egypt to seek asylum, looks ahead to his career as the Man of Sorrows - the story of His rejection, the suffering, the cross...
But after Christmas everything changes! We still don't know the answers. Why was I rejected like that? Why did my brother have to die so young and tragically? Why did my mother have to suffer such a terrible illness? But because of Christmas we now know for certain that God understands the question. He's in there with us. He came at Christmas to share in our sorrow and pain.
So if it changes everything else, Christmas also changes us. God didn't come into the world at Christmas just to give us a pretty story to tell, about long ago, far off things, with a baby, fluffy animals and angels in it. He came to change us. So when that change happens, the Christmas story is still being told today. Whenever anybody turns to Christ and decides to follow him, whenever we act in his compassion towards our fellow human beings, whenever we invite Jesus into our hearts and let him be part of our lives, then that story of Jesus continues to be told through us.
But he won't change us against our will. He didn't come as a tyrant, to force us to follow him through his overwhelming power. He came in weakness, a vulnerable, dependent child, to see if we would choose him.