DECEMBER 25, 2011 CHRISTMAS DAY
Rev. Malcolm Spenser
The Humble Birth
My earliest memories of Christmas centered around the barn at home. We had to milk the cows on Christmas Eve and get to church late and had to sit at the front of the church. Then Christmas Day was spent with aunts, uncles, cousins and Grandpa and Grandma and we had food and singing around the piano, carols and of course presents. There was often snow to shovel as well. In a prairie winter you can expect anything.
Our Christmas celebrations then and now are not all like the first Christmas which took place in a lowly stable with animals and another group low on the social ladder of the time – shepherds, who often slept outside with the sheep, but it was to these persons that the angel spoke and they came to see the babe Jesus. So at the coming of Jesus to the world animals and shepherds and his young parents, no doubt frightened and worried yet relieved to have a son - a bit like being born in a taxi these days - no midwife and friends of Mom there. Jesus came to us in a lowly way as we all start life - as a vulnerable child among the vulnerable of his day.
When Octavian became Emperor of Rome he was titled Augustus and called son of God, saviour of the world and even had a month named after him in the new 12 month calendar right beside his kinsmen Julius, July and August our summer months named after them. While the names are still around the Roman Empire is gone. But Jesus was born for us, born humbly and without any fanfare of young parents no doubt pleased to have a safe birth but anxious for the future – Mary cradling this baby holding in her hand the fruit of her obedience forced to bear him in these rough conditions yet his a great moment of hope. We can bring to life Jesus in the humble setting of today. His birth was accompanied at the margins of society and today, like then the people in power had given up on justice and equity and these days on the environmental issues yet young voices shut out of the economy and the super-rich powerless and yet got the eye of the press and the public given birth to hope in our time and we see these same young people donating time for kids at Christmas with toy and food drives. Jesus grew up to feed the multitude to live out the word of walking humbly with God. That is the real meaning of Christmas - the poor can take hope, the ones with nothing will be filled.
The early church did not celebrate Christmas like we do. They looked to the season of Epiphany, the Greek for showing: this was a celebration Jesus the incarnate son of God came amongst us and lived with us as one of us, we still celebrate that season after Christmas in order to follow Jesus’ life from his Baptism until his decision to go to Jerusalem.
But when the Church figured out to evangelize was not the best way to destroy pagan temples and celebrations, rather it was better to turn them into churches and
Christian festivals, so Saturnalia the Roman feast of the shortest day when you looked for the light to return and partied for a week became a time to celebrate Christ’s birth. Sometimes it feels like we live in a 6 weeks contemporary Saturnalia with parties singing and shopping.
The real Christmas is in the heart of us who follow Mary in delivering good news to a world of woe. That is what makes Christmas great –we enter a celebration of the loving God coming to us in the form of a vulnerable child to invites us in to carry the story of this manger birth in our hearts all the time – remembering it when we are vulnerable and as we comfort the vulnerable in our times and place.
Prayer:Help us find compassion and caring within both for ourselves and others this Christmas. We ask this in the name of the babe of Bethlehem, Jesus our Saviour. Amen