While it seems like it’s been going on for ages, tonight Christmas has finally come.
We’ve just heard the familiar account of the birth of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel, complete with census-taking, Joseph going back to his home in Bethlehem, no room in the inn, shepherd’s washing their socks, and heavenly choirs praising God; and, of course, we have the birth of Jesus, with him being wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. It’s so familiar we hardly even think about it anymore; we hardly even notice that in that barn in Bethlehem, in the birth of that baby, that our God does the most astonishing thing – our God becomes one of us.
It’s difficult to know quite how to say that in a way that allows us to hear its power and importance again. God becomes one of us, God becomes like you and me, able to experience what we experience, able to feel what we feel, able to be angry, happy, lonely or afraid; able to know tenderness and love; able to be tired or cross or upset: God comes to know and understand us from the inside, as it were, even if, lying in that manger tonight he is aware of nothing more important than his mother. Jesus will grow and change and develop as we do; he will become aware of his strengths and weaknesses; he will slowly become aware of his calling, his mission from God. And it is of absolute importance to the rest of the story that Jesus is like you and me, or the cross and his death become a sham from which we can gain nothing.
God does this for you, and God does it out of love: not for a principle, or to make us feel bad, but to live love for you and for me. God becomes one of us so that with us God can transform our world and our lives. That’s what all those readings at the service of nine lessons and carols are all about – the people of God express their longing and hope for a world of peace and plenty, a world redeemed from its sin and selfishness, a world where no one needs to be afraid, a world in which we can all flourish, unlike so many places in our world today. That message of God’s transforming love has never been more important or more urgent. This baby is born so that God can work with us in the transformation of the world as one of us. That’s the good news we proclaim, that’s why the angels sang, and that’s why we’re here tonight.
The Christian message is not all that complicated: God in Christ wants to transform the world, and God not only wants us to join with him in that transformation, he wants that transformation to begin with you and me. God wants us, like John the Baptist, to prepare people for the coming of Christ and the coming of God’s kingdom; God wants us, like the prophets of old, to be passionate about justice and peace and truth; God wants us, like Mary, to say ‘yes’ to God’s call, to God’s offer of unconditional love; God wants us, like Jesus, to give ourselves utterly to God’s work of reconciliation, healing and peace. And as we do these things, as we do them in the everyday ways in which we live our everyday lives, so the world can be transformed and God’s kingdom will come.