notes from a small curate
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Luke 2 - Looking backwards for Christmas
Good Shepherd Christmas Eve Midnight Communion 24/12/2006
Titus 2.11-14, Luke 2.1-14
Who are we expecting to appear during our midnight communion? I suppose most of us, looking at the crib, thinking about the nativity stories we've been hearing, assume that it is the baby Jesus, the infant Christ. But the one who is present in our midst at midnight mass, as at every communion service, is the crucified and risen Lord. We are, in fact, as at every holy communion, celebrating Easter.
Now please forgive me if this sounds like I'm just trying to be clever, because the point I'm hoping to make should help us to allow Christmas to truly shake and shape our lives.
Let's think about this - it was because of the death and resurrection of Jesus that it became possible and necessary to tell the story of his life, including the story of his birth.
Think about this: if Jesus hadn't died, been raised from the dead, and appeared to the disciples, there would have been no interest at all in his birth. It is only when we become fully grown that people take an interest in where we were born. Then it's people at the Passport Office or the Post Office who want to know. It's preachers at our funeral service who refer back to our early days. Or if we become famous people start to be interested in where we come from.
When he was a little boy no-one was interested that Wayne Rooney was born here in Croxteth; it's only now that he's England's centre-forward that the Wayne Rooney 2007 Annual (which I was reading in the bookshop the other day) devotes four whole pages to his childhood here. (I didn't buy it by the way).
The Christmas stories told by Luke and Matthew were written after his death and resurrection. They were designed to enrich their hearers' understanding of Jesus' death and resurrection, and what these things achieved.
Jesus, by dying and being raised from the dead, showed that, for God, there is no such thing as death. He showed us that we do not need to live in the shadow of death.
Jesus didn't just happen, as an adult, to cotton on to something interesting. All along, there had been a purpose to his being alive - a purpose no-one understood at the time, and realised only gradually afterwards.
The purpose of Jesus' whole life, death and resurrection was to rescue us broken people to be the fulfilment of God's creation, which in our terrible brokenness we had completely lost sight of. In telling us the Christmas stories, Luke and Matthew remind us that Jesus is not any old god, but the God: the God of our salvation.
The story of Easter is the story of a violent murder, but it is the fulfilment of something very gentle, delicate, and quite immense. The Christmas stories tell us that it was a plan made by someone who likes humans as they are, and wants to involve them - cowards, murderers, liars, addicts of death and security - in becoming something greater than they can imagine.
When, at the Christmas eucharist, we hear the words: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light," we mustn't make the mistake of thinking it was the people in the past who lived in darkness, and that we are the ones who have seen the light.
Rather, the crucified and risen Lord teaches us to understand our own darkness, and the darkness of the world we share. The crucified and risen Lord encourages us to continue with our own gradual, ambivalent steps into living in the light.
The Christmas communion teaches us to look back at God's project of love that came into being in Bethlehem; to consider the painful birth, in our midst, of a truth which is not ours, and which we would not be, of ourselves, inclined to recognise.
The Christmas communion helps us to revere the astonishing gift which God gives us, which we can barely believe now. The Christmas communion helps us to rejoice in the gift we are being given, a gift not related to our worthiness or our belonging.
It is a gift which came through a vulnerable God, in an offstage corner of the world, which we would never have heard of but for the life which it turned into, and for the lives it turned around.
Realising this tunes us into Easter, and then perhaps, tuned into Easter, we can kneel at the manger and once again, recieve that wonderful gift.
 Adapted from an article by James Alison. Originally appeared in The Church Times, no. 7244 (2001).