A story where everyone has a part…words for Midnight Mass at Adel Parish Church.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Well it’s been a funny old year…a year, sadly, with a fair amount of darkness…or at least a feeling of struggling to see our way, of being lost.
There’s been the question of who we are if we are not Europeans, of whether there’s still such a thing as being ‘British’. There’s the way many have felt their traditional political party no longer has a place for them. There’s the feeling amongst foreign nationals, Muslims and Jews, that they are not safe here…or they that this is no longer their country. And faced with the way these people have been treated, many of us don’t recognise Britain as the country we love either.
So many uncertainties that it’s easy to feel we are groping around in the darkness.
It’s been a year of uncertainties for me too…how I would cope when our vicar Matthew went on Sabbatical for three months…would I find a job as my curacy came to an end…where would it be? The unknown of being ‘Rector’ rather than an assistant curate…how I fit into this community in my new role…I’ve I felt a bit lost at times.
And then there are the uncertainties everyday life throws at us.
In the midst of it all, we’ve come this evening to share a story we know so well – the story of the first Christmas – wondering perhaps whether it has any relevance in our lives today.
It is, of course, the story of ordinary, respectable working folk. Joseph, a skilled craftsman, probably self-employed, and Mary, his wife to be.
…the story of brave young people with dreams of an ordinary, settled life together.
…the story of people who find themselves with nowhere to stay, sleeping in unsuitable borrowed rooms even though there’s a baby on the way.
…a story where the first, most important guests are the poorest, marginalised, least valued in society – a group of shepherds from a hillside.
…a story where the rich and learned from other countries and other cultures are also invited to come and play their part – three wise men setting off to follow a star which invites them to travel but tells them little else.
…the story of an unremarkable family turned into refugees, as a powerful ruler tries to hang on to power. That bit doesn’t usually make it into nativity plays. But when King Herod the Great heard the rumour of a baby king, he sent men to slaughter all babies in Bethlehem…just to make sure.
…the story of indifferent busy people rushing past, offering no room, ignorant of the gift in their midst.
That is why it’s a story that draws us back again and again…because we find that whoever we are, whatever is happening in our lives…we have a place in this story. It’s such a powerful story because it says when God came to earth; he came to and for everyone.
But God didn’t come, as we might expect, as part of the ruling class. God didn’t come with power to order people to come and worship.
The scandalous thing about the Christmas story is that Almighty God chose to come to earth as a tiny, vulnerable baby born to ordinary parents during the chaos of a census in an occupied country. God chose a life that people are free to ignore, a truly human life, a life that shows us what it is to be truly human.
In other words, God chose to need people…chose to risk human life at its most precarious…not to dominate or posses but to invite. And we are all invited, not just to be onlookers, part of the crowd. We’re invited to come and find our place in the story…a story of love where everyone is needed.
Those who like Mary and Joseph welcome Christ into their lives so that he comes into the world afresh in each generation.
Those who like the shepherds are on the margins, and who if we choose to listen can teach us so much about what is really important in life…who, even though they have almost nothing, still find something to give.
Those like the Innkeeper, who don’t really understand what’s going on, but sense something special and can’t quite turn away. Who let Christ in – at least to the edges of their lives.
Those like the wise men, of different cultures and faiths who understand the importance and goodness of this event…and although it’s not part of their world…choose to protect it from those like Herod who would destroy it.
Those who, like the Holy family, are forced to flee their country today, who know what Jesus experienced.
Those like the busy passers-by, who if only they take a moment to turn aside, can be part of the story. Who are invited, but never forced.
Maybe, if we make it our story again this Christmas, we also might start to remember that everyone is needed, that we need one another. We might contribute a little to reclaiming a country where all can feel at home.
And if we stick with the story, we might find that we need the God who chooses to need us. Perhaps we will grow a little more like the one who never forces but always invites.
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
And if we find our part in his story, we might also find that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.”