This is the text of this morning's Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2's Chris Evans Show. Guests in the studio were Tom Odell, Len Goodman, Alex Jones, Paul Hollywood and Bear Grylls… and the Sally Army Band.
Call me immature, but ever since I became a vicar I had a competition with myself at Christmas. It was to get a Bruce Cockburn quote into every Christmas sermon. I have now managed to quote the Canadian songwriter for twenty seven years.
Why? Well, sometimes the poetry of someone else shines new light into what has become familiar – like … er … Christmas. So, instead of banging on in prose, I drop in this bit of lyric: “Like a stone on the surface of a still river, driving the ripples on for ever, redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe.”
Brilliant, isn't it? In a world dominated by power, bigness, violence and competitiveness, it is the cry of a tiny babe that penetrates the fog and defies the misery. Or, as someone once put it, there's no point just shouting at the darkness; light a candle! A small light can dispel a lot of murkiness.
I think this is how love works – real love. Not some superficial romance, but the committed love that gets stuck into the world as it is and doesn't just wait for it to be as we would like it to be. Real love pours itself out and, as I have put it elsewhere, is drawn by hope, not driven by fear.
It seems to me that this is what Christmas is about, really. That God doesn't wait until we have sorted ourselves out, but comes into the world as one of us – in a way that we can recognise. This, I think, is what real love is about: God committing himself to all the vulnerabilities of human living in a complicated place.
This isn't just the icing on the top of the Christmas cake; it's the sherry-soaked fruit in the heart of it. It's not the peripheral dad-dancing I do to embarrass my kids; it's the strictly committed tango that real dancers do. It isn't some namby-pamby camping 'experience', but the full-blooded live-off-your-wits survival stuff in the jungle.
Christmas is God getting down and dirty – where we are. Isn't that brilliant? Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe.