A midwinter’s tale

embers

Glowing embers
The year is 5 BC, although you don’t know it at the time.

Growing up you’ve heard all the stories.  About the incredible things God did in the past.  Among people long dead, in a world that seems so foreign to you today.  When you look around today, you find it hard to believe.

The traditions are still here, but they feel empty in a world where God seems so distant.  Your people once found pride in being God’s chosen nation, and they were known far and wide for it.  But now you’re oppressed by foreign occupiers.

In some ways life isn’t so bad, and it has its comforts.  But deep down you know the comforts are only there to lull you into a false sense of security.  To dull any sense of who you really are.  Deep within your very being you know that you, your family, your entire nation are prisoners in your own land.

You feel abandoned by God.  Any bright hope once held for redemption, and a restoration to the days of old, has faded to barely visible embers glowing faintly in the darkness.

At first you can hide the growing bump, but after a while people start to notice. Start to talk.  Life is not easy in a traditional society for a young, unmarried, pregnant girl.

You want to tell people. But when you start to tell them about that night, they just snigger and made their excuses before you can explain.  That night when colour burst brightly into the black and white humdrum of ordinary life.

The angel of the living Yahweh, in an instant dispelling all previous doubts about God, and reinforcing all those you have about yourself.  The words that at once are the most petrifying and the most comforting words you have ever heard: ‘Do not be afraid’.

And this time, you know real comfort that comes from being able to face reality with confidence – not superficial comfort that comes from a temporary escape from reality.

Your birth plan did not involve travelling nearly 100 miles from home.  And it certainly didn’t involve getting there by donkey. The birth is like all births: messy, undignified, unglamorous.  Having animals around does not make for a cute scene.  On discovering no crib for a bed, and resorting instead to the manger – still looking very much like the animal trough it is – you do not feel inspired to song.

The smell, the noise, the muck, the chaos swirl around you.  You think of the world your son will grow up in – a land constantly under threat of war from foreigners, and with the circumstances of his own birth being questioned by his own people.

Into this darkness, Jesus is born.

Midwinter
The light of the world.  Emmanuel.  God with us.  The baby who became the man who showed us what it means to be truly human.  Who challenged injustice and oppression.  Who brought healing and reconciliation.  Who went willingly to death on a cross, taking the consequences of humankind’s rebellion against God.  And who then proved that not even death can stand in the way of God’s good purposes for his creation.

Yesterday marked the shortest day of the year, the darkest day.  Midwinter, when the sun has barely appeared before it dips back again below the horizon.

But it also marks a turning point.  We know that there’s still a lot of darkness to come.  In many ways January and February are the hardest months of the year.  But we press on through them, knowing that each day will be brighter than the last.

The first Christmas was like midwinters day for history itself.  There is much hardship to come, but something now is different.  Today is the day Jesus broke forth into the world…

Bright light
The year is 2013.

Growing up you’ve heard all the stories.  About the incredible things God did in the past.  Among people long dead, in a world that seems so foreign to you today.  When you look around today, you find it hard to believe.

The traditions are still here, but they feel empty in a world where God feels so distant.  Life has its comforts.  But deep down you know the comforts are only there to lull you into a false sense of security.  To dull any sense of who you really are.  Who you really could be.  Deep within your very being you know that there are things that hold you back, that hold you captive.

The noise, the muck, the chaos of life swirl around you.  Things that are done to you.  Things that are said by you.  Things that you are ashamed of.  The pressures of raising a family, holding down a job, trying to do the right things, but knowing that it’s a constant battle.  The feeling that somehow the world is against you.

And into this darkness, Jesus is born.

Not into a perfect nativity scene, but into the ordinary day-to-day struggles of life.  Breaking in with light and hope, and the promise that if God is for us, no one can be against us.  And the promise that if we reach out to him from whatever place of darkness we find ourselves in, then he is there waiting to reach back to us – the cornerstone, the rock, the light and the hope of the world.

This is the story we continue to celebrate and to teach our children every year, 2000 years on.

This is the Christmas story.

 

This blog first appeared as a sermon at the Bullbrook congregation of Warfield Church.  To find out more, visit www.warfield.org.uk

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3 thoughts on “A midwinter’s tale

  1. Thank you Ben. I can imagine this sermon helped a lot of people to know God-With-Us this Christmas. Clear message. Do I detect a Wrightian flavour, with the idea of continuing exile? Thanks for sharing! (meaning I’m sure I can use this one day!) See you soon!

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