Christmas Eve saw my wordy mind run into overdrive.
In the end this morning’s Christmas sermon at Bradford Cathedral focuses on the need to be surprised once again by the Christmas story. (A bit like I was when driving from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem past a Palestinian village called Abu Ghosht (which sounds like a curry, but isn’t…) and saw next to an illuminated McDonald’s sign another which read:
Sea of Life – Yes to carrots
No, I still have no idea what that was about.
Anyone with any taste knows that predictability is the woodworm of joy.
The surprise of the shepherds bit of the Christmas story is that they appear at all. They are the unwashed who work the hills and are probably surprised to find themselves included in the party. (I still think we might be truer to the gospel narrative if we sang ‘O come, all ye faithless…’.) Strip everything else away and we are left, like the shepherds, with the unimpressive sight of a scruffy baby in a trough – the unimpressive greatness of the small.
Helmuth James von Moltke was imprisoned in Tegel in September 1944 by the Nazis. Founder of the Kreisau Circle (opposition to Hitler), he was 37 and had a family. On Christmas Eve 1944 he wrote to his wife Freya:
My cell is a very suitable place to stay during Christmas because it makes clear that all the magic that surrounds Christmas – the loved ones and the carols, the tree and the presents – are only extras… and that it all comes down in the end to one line in the Gospel of Luke: ‘For to you today is born a Saviour.’
He was executed on 23 January 1945.
In the darkness of a world in which Syria shreds people’s lives and hopes and in which children can be shot with cold impunity in Newtown – in which people live on the streets of a civilised country and children go hungry every day – it is sometimes hard to see the light that (according to John’s Gospel) has mugged the darkness, leaving it helpless and impotent. We cry out for the light – but only agree to see it where we expect or want to see it.
Christmas shows us people who were drawn by curiosity to leave the familiar and look for the surprise. Curiosity is the antidote to joyless predictability.
It is curiosity that needs to be awoken as we encourage people (including me) to live the story in the weeks and months to come – being surprised by the God who smiles at our comforts and shines a different light into our faces.