Christmas Address St. James Traralgon 2019
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for I bring you good news of great joy for all people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours. When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us. So they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, as it had been told them (Luke 4:8 NRSV).
Without Luke’s gospel there would be no descriptions of Christmas such as we know it. We would have the visit of the Magi from Matthew and brief descriptions of his birth in both Luke and Matthew, but without the extended artistry of Luke and his contacts with sources who knew Mary the mother of Jesus, we would be bereft of much that enriches the stories of what happened at the time that Jesus was born. The Roman pagan festival of the sun was instituted long after Jesus was born, and the calculation of the appearance of the star came from Christian sources. The Angel of the Lord, the great messenger of God, brings “glad tidings”, and is related to the word for “gospel” in the New Testament and in the Christian tradition. The birth stories of a famous people are not told until after they have become famous. The first Christians recorded the events of the last week of Jesus life, his trial, death and resurrection, crucial information for the Christian Mission, and then they told the stories of his teaching and ministry and of his birth.
Luke uses his birth story to tell us a great deal of his vision of who Jesus really was and what his mission was in the world. Luke was a creative writer and an artist of the words of life, but he was also the greatest missionary writer of the early church after Paul had spelt out our connection with God in his great teaching about how we relate now to the one who had walked in Galilee . That is, by being justified by our faith in the Lord our Saviour.
This is the 52nd time that I have come to Christmas to deliver the words that honour the One who came into the world with such mystery, such inner glory, and in such a vulnerable humanity. What have I learned about him in those years? What makes him stand out in the human cavalcade of countless lives that have been lived and fallen into the leftover dust of creation? From the birth of a child in humble circumstances to an apparently ignominious death on the Cross; then the resurrection into the glory of God, there was a pathway being formed for all who would wish to follow. He was born like one of us, though his conception is claimed to be supernatural in the Gospels. He suffered like all of us do at some time or other in our life, though in extremis at the Cross as a measure of the enormous love of God. The notable Islamic writer, Reza Aslan, has written that Christianity committed the ultimate arrogance in having a human being become God. It is obviously rather that God became a human in act of humility beyond our imagination. John Henry Cardinal Newman was once preaching a sermon in St. Mary’s Church in Oxford when he paused ever so slightly in speaking about the passion of Christ and all the things that happened to him that led to the resurrection; and then he said in words that hung in that beautiful church, “This is about none other than Almighty God.” Jesus is a mix of God and humanity and so are we in our human journeys. We carry the image of God within us, a radiance that comes to the surface sometimes when we are alone with the Alone and all our concerns suddenly fall away; the inner radiance rises to the surface and we feel that we are safe. Time and eternity have come together, and we are at one with the One who made us, our Creator.
I have always clung to the promise of Jesus that we would be given the words and strength to face whatever would come to us in any future happenings.
When his whole life from beginning to end was vindicated by his resurrection and journey into God on the path of glory, then we could see how it all came together. That is how the birth stories came into being, though they had been present in the oral tradition from early on; and that is a wonderful way to view the whole scene; that is, from the end back to the beginning. It is rather like our own lives as we proceed down the pathway, and then we begin to look back to see how we were formed and the things that made us who we are and what we have become. This encourages us to face the finitude of life and the necessities that go with being a vulnerable human being who traverses this earth.
I conclude with a song that always moves me: We started our human life like Jesus, in a near-silent cocoon in which we could yet feel something of what was going on around it and perhaps sense our mother’s heartbeat. That is the genesis of the musical beat: the beat of the heart. John Farnham was born in England, came to Australia and became famous for several songs, including one that still moves me: “You’re the Voice”. It was composed as an anti-war hymn in the US by Andy Qunta, and others. I love the rousing “You’re the voice.” We sang it too and knew other key words, such as the refrain: “We’re all someone’s daughter. We’re all someone’s son. How long can we look at each other down the barrel of a gun?“. These words sum up our debt to those who brought us into the world and the madness of violent solutions to human problems except in response to attack.
A mother’s body is the first cradle of a child. Those who gave us birth are the best model for understanding what happened at Christmas. If it is not true in human terms as we interpret it, then it is not true at all. Mary his mother was Jesus’ first experience of human love and nurture. He was still thinking of her shortly before his death.
Remember you’re the voice of your own humanity: you’re someone’s daughter/son and nothing can change that fact of your being.
“You’re the voice” that can cry out against oppression and hatred and the lunacy of war. No one wins any more. Everyone is now a loser in war: it is utter lunacy in our world with its weapons of mass destruction beyond all our imagination. Please pray for peace, the peace of Jerusalem, because when the peace of Jerusalem is secure, then the whole world is somehow in a safer place. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because he saw it as a failed model of peace in the world. Pray for peace with all your heart:
for peace in yourself; for peace in your family; for peace on earth and peace with our neighbours. Amen and Alleluia!!