Christmas - Homily 3

 Homily 3 - 2012

Here is a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Where would you start looking? Well, certainly somewhere in the nearby town, Bethlehem.  But hardly in the "nice" end of the town – a gang of shepherds would not be welcome there.

It would have to be somewhere down the tougher end of town.  After all, the child would be wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a feed trough usually reserved for animals.  That was the normal deal in poor families - and Mary herself would have been used to that.

There was another sign, too, not for the original shepherds but for Luke's readers.  It was not called a sign, though it was clearly intended as such.  The first people to be informed of the birth of Jesus were not the local mayor, or the resident priest, or anyone who mattered – but shepherds, men right at rock-bottom of the social scale.

We are used to the story.  We might even think it's cute.  But what are the signs signifying?  What are they pointing to? There could be a lot of answers to that.  I'll suggest a few.  You might see some others.

They seem to be saying: God is not into the trappings of power.  Indeed, God seems to be open to being pushed around, profoundly inconvenienced and even exploited by those in power.  God seems to have a special interest in the nobodies, what we might call a "preferential option for the poor".  Nor is God into prestige, reputation or honour.  God is not fazed by chaos.

If we look at the other end of the child's life - his formal crucifixion - executed by order of the State under pressure from the religious authorities, aligned between a couple of bandits, the same agendas seem to be in operation there, too.  Put that way, the story doesn't seem quite so cute.

There are some perks in being disciples of Jesus, but there are some disturbing challenges as well.  It's a hard act to live up to.  Over the centuries, our Church has flirted with power and reputation and wealth – though, at least here in Australia, that might be beginning to unravel – and not by our deliberate choice, even if through our own fault.

I wonder if the Church will be a humbler, more approachable Church - more compassionate, more gender-inclusive and more aware as a result of the Royal Commission soon to get under way? Do we want to be a humbler Church?

A wonderful thing about Christmas is that it reveals God right in the middle of mess, totally committed to helping us to sort ourselves out from our mess.  It reveals a God who doesn't withdraw as a result of the world's sin, or the Church's sin, but who chooses to get totally involved.

In the child whose birth we celebrate today, we see God's way of engaging with the world's sin, the world's violence and our instinctive hostility.  It's the way of vulnerability, and of the determined avoidance of power, comfortable self-interest and prestige.

We might think twice about our own commitment to God's project, wondering if the price might be too high.  What on earth does it involve?  a radical re-imagining of Church?  It's easier to opt out, to let ourselves be disillusioned and to drift away.  And yet, there is something about the child - something about the crucified and disgraced Jesus - that touches a deeper chord within us, and resonates with what is our truest and best.  I can wonder about myself and my readiness to embrace the future.  But we don't have to have the answers.  We don't have to be certain about our personal resources.

I don't know how Mary felt.  I don't know how Joseph felt.  When others seemed to have got carried away by astonishment – going away on a real religious "high" – Mary and Joseph just seem to have kept silent.  Luke would simply say of Mary: she pondered these things in her heart.  What might that mean?  Whatever our answer, it might be a good, sobering, starting point, too, for us.

With all that swirling in my mind, I wish you all a truly Happy Christmas!