Advent week 5

The Nativity of the Lord – 25 December 2022

It is appropriate that we begin our Christmas celebrations with an act of reverence towards the nativity scene. Because that gathering of statues and figures so beloved of our childhood is the goal of our journey to Christmas. It is our symbolic sharing in the journeys that found their end at the Lord’s cradle. Mary and Joseph, having travelled down from Galilee, at last arrive weary into Bethlehem. The shepherds, making their way down from the hills in the surrounding countryside, will soon reach the stable. A few more days and the magi will have crossed far greater distances, followed the star to this same end. And at the end of these three journeys, the child who is the glory of God and peace to men and women.

Each of these journeys captures or reflects something of even longer, harder, travels. In Mary and Joseph, we see something of Israel’s journey towards the Promised Land. This was the exodus journey out of slavery through a wilderness beset with trials, the darkness of infidelity to the covenant, the persecution of the prophets, dark days of foreign invasion and the desecration of God’s holy nation. Encapsulated in the magi’s pilgrimage, lies the gentiles’ long search for God, the darkness of idolatry, and perhaps the guiding light of reason. And, then, the shepherds who live in the fields, a journey made by the outsiders of society, those on the fringes who contend against the darkness of both material deprivation and social exclusion.

All find their journey’s end in the Christ child. It isn’t simply that each of these travels finish at the same point, but in this common ending the travellers themselves find a new commonality. What does the angel say? ‘I bring you news of great joy, that shall be for all people.’

That’s why Isaiah, rejoicing that ‘the people that walked in darkness have seen a great light’ can prophesy that ‘all the footgear of battle, every cloak rolled in blood, is burnt and consumed by fire.’ For the child in the cradle is the Prince of Peace, the one in whom enmity, ignorance, and injustice will be overcome by God’s grace, by the forgiveness of sins.

Many of us will not look back fondly on the year coming to an end. A year of continuing sickness, stress, and the darkness of war, a year in which the darkness in human hearts has been all too visible. And yet our journey through those times of darkness brings us to this night of joy and light, kneeling before the cradle of the Lord.

As we worship this child, sing God’s praises this Christmas, we can know with relief that God has acted to save us from ourselves, to heal us of our many conflicts. And look again at where we find this new unity in Christ – in ‘a joy to be shared by the whole people.’ For whatever darkness we have known, tonight we see: “a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.”

May the joy of that light be with you and your families this Christmas.

Fr Chris Denham

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