St Bartholomew, Corsham, Christmas Eve
Come Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your people
and kindle in us the fire of your love,
for Jesus’ sake. Amen
A new born baby!
If there is one thing that seems guaranteed to produce a reaction, it is a new-born baby!
Whether it is around the hospital bedside, or around the buggy in the street, the assembled friends and relatives will go “Ooh, aah, isn’t she beautiful!”
At least, that’s what the women do, the men are more likely to stand back looking bemused. That is, until our own baby is born when we join in excitedly and proudly.
So it’s good to be celebrating Jesus’ birth tonight.
Babies are amazing. Human beings are amazing. And all the while God is looking on, saying: “We made him!” Or, “We made her!” I like watching nature programs on t.v. Among all the other creatures we can be gob-smacked by, let’s remember that human beings also are creative, created, and amazing.
Tonight we celebrate the Christmas event: that is the birth of Jesus. The fact that this happened approx. 2000 years ago and we’re still celebrating shows that it is a rather special event! Tonight we read passages from the Bible and sing carols that all remind us of what took place. It is hardly surprising that, there at the centre of it all, is a group of people going, “Ooh, aah,” around a baby.
Well, compared to your average birth today, there are similarities. There is the group of people.
However it is a little unusual that at various times the group includes shepherds, who are summoned from their fields and sheep by angels praising God, and magi who have arrived by following the stars.
God looks on, this time not just saying: “We made him”, but “I am him.” This is the awesome truth of the Christmas story: that God becomes human, or incarnate (which means the same thing). God, who amazingly created this small and wondrous planet that we live on, chooses to come and live among us.
Like those visiting shepherds, and magi, we need to have a sense of awe. I wonder when you feel that? Perhaps you feel it every Christmas. Perhaps you feel it when you see snow on the ground, or when you look up at a clear starry sky, or when you see the first spring bulbs coming into flower. Perhaps you feel it when you see a new-born child. These are moments when we have to recognise that life is not all about ‘me’; that we don’t do everything on our own; that there must be a God, and that he must love us a lot to surround us with such creativity.
If you were part of that “Oooh, aah” crowd looking at the new born Jesus, what would you be thinking?
If you were going to sing a few lines from your favourite carol to celebrate, which would they be?
Some of us live very much in the present moment, aware of what is around us, and indeed soaking up the beauty or awesomeness of a new-born child. “Wow! He’s got his father’s eyes! He’s got his mother’ nose! (Oops!) What a pretty dress!”
Others of us like to think to the future. “Have we finished decorating the baby’s bedroom? What school will he go to? Will she get a good job? Who shall we ask to be the God parents? When shall we have the baptism, or christening?”
We are all human, and we do have different skills, strengths and interests. These become more evident as we grow older, and so we know that it is our duty as parents to do our best to nurture any growing child of ours – so that they can make the most of their life.
As far as we know, Jesus went to school in the way that other boys of his time did. He worshipped at the synagogue on the Sabbath, and spent most of his life following in Joseph’s footsteps to work as a carpenter. It was only when he got to the age of about thirty that he stepped into new work and started to teach and to gather disciples around him. We don’t know exactly how Jesus became aware of this, but it was a serious change in vocation.
This change was marked in a number of ways, including at Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John, which as a church we shall celebrate in a few weeks’ time. This is the famous moment when heart-warming words from heaven were heard by the crowd announcing Jesus’ place in things: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
Maybe, for some of us here tonight, life will be like that. We’ve spent all our lives working in what we thought was the right job, then along comes God and says, “Follow me!” All change – a new vocation!
As we think about the birth of Jesus, and what his presence means to us, we could talk about such differences, but instead let’s talk about some similarities.
For all of us as Christians, our baptism marks the moment when we put our lives into the hand of God and allow him to make the most of us – to help us to become the people he made us to be, to live life to the full and enjoy it.
I wonder whether you believe, as I do, that God has plans to prosper us, to give us hope and a future; that he has good work in store for us to do; and that if we will connect with him we shall discover the best for our lives?
So we can stand in the crowd around the new-born Jesus and be struck with awe and joy. We can also wonder about the potential of this child.
We may have different vocations, but as Christians we share a vocation to care for one another; to connect in a spiritually intelligent way with creation around us and its Creator; and to make good use of the gifts that we have.
It is these small acts of love that bring hope to the world.
I asked you what few lines of a hymn you might want to sing.
My favourite hymn is O Little Town of Bethlehem, and two lines in particular.
O holy Child of Bethlehem! Descend to us we pray,
Cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.
It is an awesome thought that as people and as Christians we can celebrate Christ’s birth, and we can also celebrate his birth in us. We can wonder at the potential of a baby, and we can wonder at our potential. We choose to nurture a new-born child, and we can also choose to nurture Christ in us.
As St Paul writes, Christ in us is “the hope of glory”.
Our world needs hope, and it is the way that we let God work in us that brings hope to the world. We need to nurture him.
Tonight we celebrate again our kinship with the new-born Saviour. With those gathered shepherds we wonder what it all means.
Watching God and us grow together, nurturing the Christ within us, is the only way we shall find out.
O holy Child of Bethlehem! Be born in us today.