I want to go back to the picture of the nativity - Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the angels and the wise men. It is the picture familiar to us from our crib scene here in church and as a symbol of Christmas it cannot really be bettered I think. We have of course St. Francis of Assisi to thank for our Christmas crib, for it was he who first set up a manger scene, with ox and ass and invited local villagers to celebrate the Eucharist around the manger. And I have been struck very much by this year by the power of this scene as an expression of the gospel, understood as the good news that in Christ every division is overcome and brought to wholeness...
The crib scene is a picture full of contrasts and opposites. Imagine you were setting up the crib scene, apart from the baby Jesus, which characters would you put in first? (Mary and Joseph) that's right, and they represent in themselves some contrasts, such as male and female, young and old, for Mary was a young woman and Joseph almost certainly an older widower; and they also embody priest and king , for Mary's family was related to the priests, whereas Joseph descended from King David. Can you think of some other contrasts and opposites in the crib picture?
What about the shepherds and the magi? Here the picture offers a contrast of poor and humble, with rich and exalted; a contrast of Jewish shepherds and gentile astronomers. The first worshippers of Jesus are as different as possible from each other.
Then there is the contrast of heavenly and earthly - the angels and the multitude of heavenly host, contrasted with the animals, the beasts of burden; reflecting the sky above and the earth represented by the straw of the manger. Here too there is a subtle contrast of pure and impure, which is why the baby is wrapped in swaddling bands to preserve his purity over against the earthy bed of hay. The light of the star and the heavenly host contrasts with the dark of the night in which the birth takes place. The noise of the bustling town of Bethlehem full of people and animals for the census contrasts with the stillness of the moment of birth.
At every level in this nativity picture contrasting opposites are being brought together in a dynamic balance. And what lies, literally lies, at the heart of this picture? - the Christ child. The child in whom all opposites, all dualities are finally brought together and overcome, for in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female for all are one as Paul wrote in Galatians. This Christ child is new born, only moments old , yet of course also older than time itself. This Christ child is utter vulnerable, weak and helpless, yet carries in his veins the power to create universes. This Christ child is an infant, literally incapable of speech, and yet of course is the Word, from whom all other words derive.
This is good news. For we live in a world in which so much division derives from perceived opposites. We fight because of our race or gender or because we have different ideas about what is pure or impure, or because we want to protect our wealth or our religion. These divisions cause so much pain. But when we look at the nativity scene, we are given an image of hope. We are shown the possibility of differences being overcome, of human beings coming together regardless of age, gender expression, sexuality, race or ability. The overcoming of these divisions brings peace, shalom, wholeness , which is why the Christ is called the Prince of Peace. In Christ God becomes human, to show us what it is to be truly human, to live to the full potential of what we can be.
For so often in life we do not live to our full potential because of fear. We are afraid of not fitting in in some way; of not conforming to the norms of what it is to belong to a particular grouping and being punished as a consequence. No wonder that the message of the angel 'do not be afraid' rings through the Christmas story. For it is fear that holds us back from allowing Christ to be born in each and every one of us. For the birth of the infant Jesus, symbol that it is of the overcoming of all divisions, can only truly help us and our war torn world if we allow that birth to occur also within each one of us. Christ is born not just in a manger a long time ago in Bethlehem, but this morning, in St. Luke's Toowoomba, in you and in me. How? Every time we choose to trust instead of fear Christ is born in us. Every time we choose to receive the other with generosity and not with hostility, Christ is born in us. Every time we choose to let our light shine without fear of shame or humiliation Christ is born in us.
So today, Christmas Day, contemplate the crib scene. Look with the eyes of faith on the Christ child, in and through whom all conflicts cease. Ask that Christ may be born in you today in some little way and as you receive that gift live today a little lighter, a little more whole, a little more empty of your self concern. For in and through us Christ is born afresh in our world this Christmas Day and always. Amen.
by Penny Jones, for Christmas Day 2016