A sermon offered by The Reverend Ann Edwards
Christmas Eve 2020
When English royal babies are born, an easel is placed outside the palace to announce the news. Buckingham Palace has locked, cast iron gates, it is guarded, and the reality is the royal child is likely not even inside. While clearly the royals are real people with real lives, the royalty we see is from a distance, their movements through the world protected and highly choreographed, with a barrier of physical space as well as status keeping the everyday person at a distance.
If we do per chance get that rare chance to be close, for most it is at a parade while the queen or king passes fleetingly, or a handshake and polite chat as the royal moves along a line. These are the glimpses everyday people get of royalty.
The very wealthy, world leaders and celebrities often get more time, and are within that inner circle. Those that in the worldly sense are more successful and powerful and are themselves distanced from the everyday. You would be surprised to bump into any of these people at the local park, or picking up the groceries. And if you did, the paparazzi might be there, and you would tell the story later, or perhaps post it on social media, because how surprising would it be, to be close to that inner circle? Closeness and familiarity are the privilege of a select few. For the rest of us, it is a story in a newspaper.
And so, it is easy to imagine God as sitting up in the heavens, with a throne, and a crowd of angels. And when we imagine God like that, where are we? If God is a person up in the sky, crowded by the heavenly host, we are a long way away, at the back of the crowd. And if you’ve ever sat in the last row of Suncorp stadium or the very back of Boondall, you’ll know that is certainly not close enough to see.
The writer of our gospel today would have recognised that feeling – it was just the same In Jesus’s time, although far more brutal. The Emperor was unapproachable. Augustus, as Emperor, was in Roman practice recognised as the “Son of God”. His power was absolute in earthly terms, because there was no questioning a monarch that was also a deity. The everyday people suffered as a result, and it is in this context that Luke writes the story of Jesus’s birth.
In Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of Jesus, God becomes tangibly present in God’s own creation – but there is no palace, no body guard, no protocols, no boundaries, no distance.
There was no easel or written missive, issued from outside locked gates and sharp fences. Instead, an angel delivered the news face to face. And this news was not shared with the court of a palace, the press, or the leaders of the armed forces, but to shepherds who were terrified. This was no abstract announcement of a traditional monarch. The very real and glorious angels sang to announce this very, very good news; to announce with all joy and splendour and wonder to the very real and humble shepherds in the field. The herald of the angels was terrifying because it was close.
Little wonder the shepherds were terrified – the world was tipping on its axis. After an announcement like that, what might you expect? If the Emperor was terrifying, and the angels were even more terrifying, what would the Saviour be like?
But they were told do not be afraid and the angel sent the shepherds to something that was even more real and even more wonderful.
The shepherds saw God, who came as an infant, who would know his parents’ love, security, and nurture. Totally reliant, God become tangible, and inhabited a warm body that was held, that snuggled, that would breathe with breaths that slowed as sleep came. Who cried with hunger and fear and loneliness, and settled with a parent’s embrace and expected nothing more than his parent’s care and that precious and humble shelter.
Do not be afraid.
Those chubby cheeks and tiny hands, head supported in the crook of his exhausted mother’s arm. Just like every baby they had ever seen. Just like every baby we have welcomed, with love, and a little awe. Babies that are frightening only in the trepidation we might feel in their vulnerability.
And yet this child was so much more.
In Jesus, God came to us. Was one of us. Grew up like us. Experienced life with us. And experiences life with us still. No matter how humble our circumstances, the birth of Christ is announced to us, and we are told do not be afraid because Jesus is not distant, but comes in the most inviting way possible. We can shed every human parallel to power, richness, influence, success, and popularity and see the Christ as Jesus is. The beautiful, holy, co-creator; judge of all; bearer of truth; holder of all authority; the poorest, most vulnerable, most approachable and most recognisable Saviour. The one that both holds the universe and consents to our care. The source of all love that consents to be loved. The one that shows us God is near, so willingly near, so deliberately near.
This infant is surely a source of awe and worthy of songs of praise.
In the name of Christ, Amen