by Kim Fabricius
Each year we hear again the ancient Christmas narrative. Each year we retell the story of how, almost unnoticed, God snuck into the world of Augustus and Herod, the “the movers and shakers”, to re-make history from below. We are astonished, touched, tickled, by our humble God’s predilection not for nabobs but for nobodies, for oddballs and outliers, for those whom the system chews up and spits out, the poor, the sick, the sad, the bad, the old. Something unimaginable and unpredictable happened, something original and fresh was revealed. God in his kindness decided to break the silence of centuries by giving himself away in the Word-made-fragile-flesh, whose first utterance was the hungry cry of a helpless new-born, whose last would be the desperate howl of a crucified misfit.
The mysterious Advent of God was focussed in a child; the breadth and depth of God’s love was expressed in a mite in a manger. God chose to visit the world not in Whitehall or Wall Street but in weakness, through an ordinary birthing by a peasant teenager in troubled times and awkward circumstances. The maker of galaxies and solar systems, mountains and rain forests, blue whales and dancing daffodils, revealed his glory in a bairn in a barn in the back of beyond.
Yes, the Christmas story we hear each year is the same, but our worlds, private and public, are always different. Joy and sorrow, success and failure, health and sickness – there are always annual alterations, good and bad, and, if we’re lucky, not cut down before time, we develop, decline, and die. But no matter what changes we negotiate, what achievements we celebrate, what losses we mourn, what tragedies overwhelm us, the Christmas story speaks to us again of The New – new birth, new life, new purpose. It tells us that things can and will be different, that the past need not and will not determine the future, that the God who met us once in Jesus will meet us again in Jesus, that the God of surprises is working even now, with unpromising material, in hidden ways, to create a new heaven and a new earth.
Angie and I had our first grandchild in July, and in a very real sense that we all feel intuitively, viscerally, the birth of every child is a small protest against the tired, cynical view that we are condemned to live lives of the same-old same-old, locked in a system of one-damned-thing-after-another. But in the birth of this child, a new adventure of faith begins, a new way of being human is disclosed to us, a new way of relating to each other is asked of us, and a new power of living is imparted to us. The Christmas story is an old story that is forever young, a story that constitutes a radical challenge to the trivial, the odious, and the squalid, a story pregnant with the possibility of meaning, decency, and beauty. Danger is not denied, threats are acknowledged, stupidity still stalks, vanity struts, and violence strikes. Nevertheless, because in Jesus grace and truth have pitched a tent, established an outpost in the world – indeed a colony: the church – the glorious advent of the peaceable kingdom is no longer in doubt. So as followers of the Wee One we can be confident and courageous, strong and tender.
That is why we make the journey back to Bethlehem each year: to go back to the future by rediscovering our roots in this gift of God wrapped in a nappy. It is the time we relocate where we come from so as to re-orientate ourselves to where we are going. It is at once a time of homecoming and of setting out, of affirming the already and anticipating the not-yet. It is a time of deep, deep gratitude, magical joy, and indestructible hope.
In a famous Christmas poem John Betjeman asks, with deep, urgent longing:
And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me?
Yes, it is true, it is true. For me, for you, for everyone.