Blue Coat School 17/12/2003
This Christmas I'm thinking about three men with beards, losing their grip on power.
I'm picturing Sadaam Hussein, emerging from his hiding place with his hair sticking up all over and that wild, wild beard covering his face. In his military uniforms and finely-groomed hair he used to look so strong; but this week he has the look of a man who's lost it all: all the power he once held has gone. 
I'm also thinking of Father Christmas. What power he holds over us when we're young children, as we believe this man in a red outfit will answer the wishes of our hearts and deliver the gifts of our dreams. So we write letters to him, and sleep restlessly - if we sleep at all - the night we expect him to come and make his delivery. But when we realise that there's someone else behind that beard, someone we know, when the myth slips about Santa, all the power he held over us is gone, and gone, too, is some of the magic of Christmas.
Then Jesus: another man who is often pictured with a beard. The fully grown Jesus has become a powerful figure, foundation of a world religion which carries great power in its cathedrals and archbishops and the way it blesses monarchs and warships. But that doesn't seem to have much to do with the real Jesus; because the real Jesus came not as a powerful bearded man, but as a powerless, vulnerable little baby. That's how God wanted us to see him.
This Christmas I'm thinking about three men with beards, losing their grip on power. And about a very young woman, surprised to be pregnant, realising that somehow she has just become very powerful indeed.
"God took one good look at me, and look what happened - I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!" Mary said.
We all give a lot away at Christmas - many presents, sometimes to people we don't know that well or get on with that well, but in the spirit of Christmas we give away to them anyway.
Mary realised just how much God had given away - all that power and glory, now reduced to a helpless baby she was carrying around in her womb.
And she realised that this signalled a change in the balance of power in the world. "God brings down rulers from their thrones but lifts up the lowly," she observed. "God fills the hungry with good things but sends the rich away empty."
Where does real power rest in the world, Mary asks, rhetorically. Not in great men with fantastic suits and beards, wielding weapons of war and taking front seats on occasions of honour. No, it rests with God, who is more at home with fourteen-year-old mothers and the crying, gurgling, smiling, helpless little children that they bear.
God of the humble, we thank you for choosing Mary, and for her readiness and joy in answering your call. Help us to understand the way of the lowly and to share in the humility through which Christ may be born even in a stable, even in our hearts. - Norwyn Denny, from Geoffrey Duncan, ed, Shine on, star of Bethlehem
 Former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was captured this week. News coverage from the BBC here