Christmas Message 2011
This has been quite a year, hasn't it?
In the Middle East, the so-called Arab Spring has brought about an earthquake in politics. In New Zealand there were real earthquakes, while in the UK our summer streets exploded into riots. In Europe, the Euro-zone countries are in crisis. Floods in the Philippines, civil war in the Ivory Coast. In Russia, Vladimir Putin is accused of rigging elections. In the Western World, bankers are are getting ludicrously rich while homelessness and poverty is on the rise at least partly because of their greed. America withdraws from Iraq...which quickly plunges into political chaos. Refugees are flooding across borders all over the world...desperately seeking a better life.
And that's just for starters....
But you know all this. You watch the news, like me. I wouldn't be surprised if, by now, you are wondering what the Vicar going on about?! We didn't come to church to hear about politicians and war-mongers, bankers and natural disasters did we?. We've come to church to hear lovely things which make us feel good inside.
But perhaps that's the problem...especially the problem with how we have told ourselves the Christmas story. At the centre of the story is a baby...yes - and some sheep and camels, and a manger full of sweet-smelling hay. How quickly we forget the rest of the story, though!
We forget that Jesus was born in an occupied country, governed by the most powerful and war-like Empire the world had yet known. We forget that the story of a baby born in Bethlehem is the story of a baby born homeless, in an animal's food trough. We forget that within months of his birth, the local warlord, King Herod, had ordered the slaughter of all male babies in Bethlehem - because he was afraid of losing political power. We forget that just after his birth, Jesus and his parents had to flee for their lives - becoming political refugees themselves.
There are other aspects of the story we forget too. We forget that Mary was an unmarried, teenage mother. We forget that Shepherds - the first visitors on the scene - were thought of as 'the scum of the earth' to much of society. And we forget that this story which begins with the birth of a baby, will end up with the cruel death of a God-filled man, nailed to a cross by the political and religious powers of his day.
No, my friends, we dare not take this Christmas story lightly. And we must not assume that our world is any different to the world into which Jesus was born. Because that is precisely the point. In the babe of Bethlehem, God enters our world. The underlying story of the Christ Mass is that God comes to us in the middle of all the chaos. Surprisingly, God is at work in the middle of all the muddle.
How can this be? How can God be at work when there is obviously so much horror out there?
An animal's food-trough is a surprising place to find God...but there are many other places where we find that God has been startlingly at work...in hospices and prisons, for example. In school classrooms, and loving families. In our community cafe here at St Mark's, and in day-care centres and play groups. God has been at work in campaigns for global justice, and in the work of Christian Aid and a thousand other relief organisations. God is at work in lives which are poured out in the service of others, all around the globe - in the lives of men and women who are committed to being peace-keepers of all kinds. God is at work among the Churches Homeless Action Group in Portsmouth, and in the dedication of social workers, nurses, and doctors, serving the needs of drug addicts and prostitutes. God is at work in the Portsmouth Women's Refuge, and the Haslar Centre for Refugees.
Everywhere that there is love...Christ is born today. Every time that a weapon is laid down, and reconciliation is sought, Christ is born today. Every time that the mighty are brought down from their seat, the words of the Angels come true.
And that's why we are here. In the middle of night, in the middle of the darkness, we proclaim that there is light, after all. In the middle of the darkness of the World, in the middle of political and economic chaos, we proclaim that Christ is present...that God remains at work among us.
So, sing choirs of Angels...sing in exultation. Christ is born today!