It’s a boy! A tiny mite of a creature with slick black hair, swarthy face, dark brown eyes, squinting, adjusting to the light in the shock and wonder at suddenly being thrown into existence, and - what always gets you most - those perfectly formed little fingers and toes. He’s crying - of course. But what’s the matter? Cold? Hunger? Wind? Wet? You hug him and, by trial and error, you try to find out. He is certainly helpless, but he is hardly passive, and he demands your attention, shamelessly.
Does this little one care about who you are, about your sex, sexuality, nationality, politics, or even whether you believe in God, or what God you believe in? No, he reaches out, unquestioningly, to you in your elemental humanity. He wants only your tenderness, moist like cattle breath, warm like straw.
This infant happens to be Jewish, but he is not bothered if you are Roman or Samaritan, would not be bothered if you are Palestinian, Welsh, or even American, and he will soon be visited by three pagan strangers from what is present-day Iraq. Some shepherds will also pop in to see him, but their lowly status as migrant workers is of no concern to him either. His mother happens to be an unmarried teenaged peasant, but it would make no difference if she’d been wed in a temple and had more silver than sense. And all the people attendant at his birth - they have their own backgrounds and social standing, and they bring to the stable their own complicated personal histories. They also have questions on their minds, issues in their lives, shameful secrets in their hearts, and they certainly have their share of muddles and hang-ups - but he doesn’t mind. Their cuddles are all that he desires.
Soon - too soon - this baby will begin to grow up. A king will try to kill him and he will become an unwelcome asylum seeker and a refugee. At the age of twelve he will run away from home. He will be a constant worry to his parents. He will have radical and disturbing ideas about his identity, vocation, and destiny. He will quit his job and hang around with an odd circle of friends. He will mix with very dubious characters, including loose women and terrorists, and he will get into big trouble. He will challenge received readings of his own scriptures and traditions. He will confront the powerful with an unyielding will and a fierce tongue. His family will as much as disown him, his friends will desert him, his foes will finally destroy him. But the tragedy lies in the future. Today, like all babies, he’s an innocent and a sign of hope.
In the more distant future he will spawn a new religion, and this religion will encompass the globe. It will also divide into denominations and sects, parties and wings, with their share of pompous leaders and petty followers, and his name will be used as a weapon to condemn and exclude, and to wage wars and crusades, quite out of keeping with the disarming child who bears it. But not today. Today the boy is neither the focus of a faith nor a justification for violence, and his name is as common as Gareth in Wales. He is just like any other infant, both nothing special and seven pounds of miracle. Today he cannot be used for anything, particularly for the endorsement for our own agenda. Today he just lies there, wiggling.
As for me, today I bring you good news about the God disclosed in this child, the “little Word” as St. Bernard called him. This God has no time for religious fuss, he gives no points for moral rectitude, he is oblivious to all our divisive cultural constructions, and he would not know “theological correctness” if it pulled down his nappy and smacked him on the bum. All - all - are welcome at the manger. The child simply wants you to come as you are and be there with him. All very natural, because although there is another world, you will find it nowhere else but hidden in this one.
Yet if you feel moved to worship, and if you really want to bless the child’s little heart, let your praise be your deepest longings, your prayer unselfconscious attention, your hymn the simplest of lullabies, and your offering - whoever you happen to be.
Sermon preached this Christmas morning at Bethel URC, Swansea