Many of you will be aware that a couple of weeks ago Janine and I dashed down to St Luke’s Wakool, a parish community with Barham and Moulamein. Their priest in charge Rev Neale only priested a couple of weeks before rang to tell me that the Church in Wakool had burnt down. It took just fifteen minutes! He had celebrated Holy Communion there just the Sunday before. When we arrived all we found was a field of ashes with twisted panels of corrugated iron. All that stood was the bell standing proud on its pole waiting to call parishioners to worship! As we raked through the ashes trying to find any precious memory, Neale recovered a nativity scene unharmed quite a little Christmas miracle. But baby Jesus was missing. As we continued to search a triumphant cry broke the sad silence. ‘I’ve found him!!’ Where the altar had been well away from the site of the crib was baby Jesus blackened and charred but complete!!! In amongst the ashes the greatest symbol of hope the world has ever received. We took the blackened and charred baby Jesus back to Barham Church where members of all the churches in the parish met for comfort and prayer. Everyone gathered around the baby Jesus promising to continue to witness to God’s love in the community of Wakool. When I returned home I sat in front of our two crib scenes. A beautiful wooden carved scene crafted by a Christian chinese artist which is twenty years old and a brand new scene in a snow dome depicting that first Christmas we bought just a few weeks ago and focused on the Christ child and I began to weep. As I look around me I realised that wonderful truth revealed at this Christmas time is that if Christ could be born in the ashes, he can be born in broken hearts too.It was St Francis who first set up a nativity crib to inspire devotion. He knew that not everyone would make it to the Holy Land to worship there so he brought a Holy Land scene into people lives knowing that God would meet them exactly where they were. Mind you the nativity scenes we remember most were those in each of our parishes which were live tableaus of members of the congregation in the tradition of St Francis. And I believe it is true. I believe it is true that as Christ is born this Christmas into our hearts and communities he is born especially in Wakool today. But what does that mean? This year has been one in which old certainties have seemed to crumble. Respect for the church has been declining for years. The shame of institutional abuse of children including the Church causing pain and demanding repentance and restitution and survivors to be listened to and believed. But Christ has been born into the muddy stable of our modern world vulnerable and fragile, yet strong as eternity. The angels tell us not to be afraid but to go there and worship and adore the babe. As I gaze into Christmas crib I see a child who changes the world who radiates love and compassion. As I gaze on that child I see a God who does not merely approve of the recognition of full human dignity for every human soul but a God who created it. For we are made in God’s image and called to live a faith which proclaims that not only the child in the manger is to be loved but every child of God on earth. As I gaze into the crib, I see his gentle mother who will teach us the songs of justice that she surely taught our Saviour. I have never stopped believing that Mary lulled that child to sleep by singing him songs of justice. Listen my darling, God raises the lowly. Listen my loved one, God scatters the mighty. She seemed to teach the child that the greater threat to human society is the carelessness of those who have everything not the vulnerable poor. I look into the crib at Joseph and Mary and see in them a couple who managed to raise a son who believed that turning the tables on injustice was not only a possibility but an inevitability. I see simple Shepherds kneel in adoration and the mighty Magi stooping in wonder and I imagine and dream of a world where all have enough. Not just enough to eat but also enough spiritual food to be nourished and satisfied forever.
This Christmas I have one simple devotion for you. The cribs should remain in churches or in your home for a few weeks after Christmas and I invite you to take some time to gaze on the holy family with Jesus at the centre and ask yourself what your dream is as you look on the face of the Christ child. Bring your hopes and dreams for a better world into your mind and gaze into the crib scene and know that all that is good is blessed and hallowed for all eternity is in him. Christ is born into this mixed up muddled up world.And if God’s people gaze in wonder into the Christmas crib and see the face of God reflected in a vulnerable child, the dream of a better world will never die. Indeed, it will live and grow and reach out in all-embracing love for the world.
Out of the ashes seemingly buried and almost unrecognised we discovered in the Christ child hope, joy and love.
And as you pray this Christmas, know that all things, all manner of things shall be well. Amen.