Every time I reflect upon the Christmas story, I’m always astounded by the miracle that Mary and Jesus ever survived the pregnancy. The odds were stacked against them - Mary’s young age, the significant stress she was placed under by the social moral norms, the judgement she was under and rejection by her community, the ‘shame blame’, the traumatic journey to Bethlehem in the final stages of her pregnancy, the squalid place for the birthing and with no midwife. Infant mortality was high even without this backdrop! And just when they might have thought it was all over, they were under the murderous threat of a paranoid despotic king.
Of course, it was a miracle!
Every step of Mary’s journey reveals extraordinary fortitude, courage and belief in God. I never cease to be amazed by Mary’s maturity of faith and trust at so young an age, and even when she must surely have questioned what it meant to be ‘blessed’.
Mary, like so many of the faithful who kept the promises of God alive, believed God would one day raise up and anoint a leader, a descendant of King David who would gather the dispersed people together under his kingship and just rule. He would be both king and priest, even after the order of David.
God had given the people promise and hope, and with this the assurance that God was with them, God loved them and God would never leave them. However bad things might be, things would get better, because of the promise and because they believed and trusted.
On the Feast of Christ the King, which immediately precedes the advent of Christmas, we are presented with the King of Heaven and Earth, before the representative king of the known world, saying, ‘My kingdom is not from this world. Standing before Pilate as one under judgement and condemnation, the King of Heaven and Earth says this: For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’ [Jn 18.37]
The miracle of the incarnation is in fact a miraculous journey that brings Jesus beyond the miracle of the birthing to the place of judgement, to the Cross and indeed to death and the second death. A journey that could only happen with the acquiescence of angels who with hushed breath passively looked on. For this, he came.
Life is full of unknowns. When we think the path is straight before us, it takes a curve or becomes bumpy. The light at the end of the tunnel becomes hidden, because we learn there’s a bend in the tunnel. Even as I write this address, none of us know how Christmas 2021 is going to look. With fear of the o variant escalating, will we be able to meet, hold nativity plays, have carol services and reach out to others with acts of loving kindnesses!
For Christians, there is one thing we do know! We know that over 2,000 years ago, a baby was born in Bethlehem, and he is Christ the King. There’s a carol that I love, with the words, ‘Mary, did you know … when you kiss your little baby, you kiss the face of God?’
NT Wright succinctly says, ‘If the world didn’t need a Messiah, he wouldn’t have come!’
Dear friends, wherever and however you celebrate Christmas, whether with others or alone, may you do so in the spirit of Mary and all the saints, in the knowledge that God is with you, God loves and God will never leave you. This Christmas look through the tatt and the tinsel into the crib and upon the face of the baby and see a glimpse of the face of God, who came and who has achieved far more than any of us can really comprehend ….. The salvation of the world. And with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, may we in a hushed breath, say ‘thank you’, and find our voice to sing, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace to all people on earth.’
May you have a truly blessed, happy and hope-filled Christmas and with my thanks for your faith and your witness and our shared ministry in the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord. After the busyness of the season, please do find time for your rest and refreshment. Amen
Bishop of Warrington