Christmas Day Sermon 2015

It is quite a number of years since I spent Christmas with my parents. Ordination tends to give one other things to do at this time of the year than to race about the country trying to keep a family Christmas. And in any case, I rather like the Christmas I keep these days. The carols, the lights decorating the church, the folk who come to keep festival here and the crib sitting under the altar are almost all I need for the perfect Christmas nowadays. Add in a tub of Waitrose custard after my Christmas dinner and I’m happy as a Provost can be.

But the sight of just about any Christmas Crib does make me think every year of Christmases with my family in Yorkshire very many years ago.

My mother is a good deal more crafty and creative than I am. It was her wont to decorate the house afresh each year with homemade Christmas decorations. One year, she was particularly proud of a Crib Scene that she had made. It wasn’t made of wood or clay or plaster figures but made entirely of felt.

Each of the figures was cut out in silhouette from dark green felt and using the mystical medium of hidden blue tac, attached to the wall of the hallway right where anyone coming to the house would pass by.

It was an elegant scene. Joseph, Mary and the babe in the manger were accompanied of course by the donkey that they had brought with them on their travels.

The trouble with this crib scene for me was that it was too tempting to add modifications. The deeper trouble is that my sadly lacking artistic skills meant that there were very few felt shapes that I could make convincingly to look like anything at all. However, I will yet confess a great pride when my parents friends all arrived for a party one year to be greeted by Joseph, Mary and the babe in the manger accompanied by a large and menacing shark that they had brought with them on their travels.

I thought this the funniest thing that I had ever seen. (And still do). My mother did not share that view. (And still doesn’t).

I was reminded of this a few days ago when browsing through my Facebook feed when I caught site of a nativity scene in a cathedral down south which had along with the donkey, camel and sheep in the stable a very carefully placed dinosaur.

Apparently it appears there every year. And each year it reminds them that when we are dealing with what happened in Bethlehem we are dealing with truths that transcend the ages. For Christians celebrate the paradox that if God was in the world in one particular place and time then God in Christ is in the world in every place and time.

In another picture of children who had been asked to come to church dressed for a nativity service, one young soul had come as a unicorn.

And in a famous Christmas film there’s a walk on part in the stable for a lobster.

What you see in the crib may not be what you expect to see.

It is a tradition too in many parts of Europe to add figures to the crib scene who represent contemporary life. Popes and politicians find themselves suddenly at Bethlehem and often in poses which emphasise in a rather vulgar way their humanity rather than their greatness.

There seems to be something about that tradition of adding the incongruous and the impossible and the slightly absurd to the Bethlehem scene that is about something a bit more than me having fun at my mother’s expense.

What you see in the crib might not be what you expect to see.

The scene that we represent in the crib is of course our way of understanding great truths. And it is the truths that the crib scene tell that are the important thing. Far more important than any argument over whether any figures are historical or not.

The ox and the ass are mentioned not at all in the bible but since St Francis of Assisi first put together a crib the animals have represented the fact that the whole of creation was redeemed by God’s interest in the world – not just what human beings might happen to think at any given moment.

And the greatest truth is that God is come into the world. That meant great change for Mary and Joseph as all babies bring change. But the theological truth that the story of Christ’s coming into the world celebrates is that all that makes us downcast will ultimately be beaten. Every form of suffering will ultimately be overcome. For love wins out – God’s love is present in this world.

It is this truth that gives me hope even in the face of some terrible current realities.

That means I believe that the current wicked government policy of punishing the most vulnerable with so-called benefit sanctions will one day be overcome.

That means I believe that forms of prejudice that I see and even the forms of prejudice that I don’t see from my place of privilege will one day be undermined.

And this year of all years, we remember as we worship the Christ child that we worship a baby who hardly had time to lie at peace in Bethlehem before he became a refugee.

Christians join with all people of goodwill in working for a world that welcome’s the refugee because our God is one of them. We don’t just welcome the refugee, we worship one.

And that’s why I believe that more people in desperate need and never ending distress should be able to build a new life in this country. For every time I look into a crib this Christmas I see a child who needs to be kept safe from harm.

What you see when you look into a crib may not be what you expect to see.

So, this Christmas as we celebrate with wonder and delight that God has come to us, I ask of you nothing other than that you look into the Crib yourself and let God speak to you.

What you see there may be far from what you expect.

For God has come into the world and loves it.

And God is come into your world and loves you too.


  1. Meg Rosenfeld says

    I enjoyed both of these sermons, and laughed heartily over the shark and other livestock. In our family, pigs and mice are beloved totem animals, and so they figure largely (in the case of the mice, not TOO large) into our Christmas décor as well as the cards and small gifts we receive. Since both are “unclean beasts” in the tradition of the Holy Family, I suppose this is heavily ironic; on the other hand, baby Jesus, having created them, may have found them as entrancing as we do. Happy Christmas/Boxing Day to you!

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