Sermons from St Faith's   

Stepping into History

Revd Sue Lucas, Christmas morning, 2015

There are, in scripture, quite a number of anonymous bystanders – the young man who runs away naked, for example, at the arrest in Gethsemane. It's a hobby horse of the nerds of the biblical scholarship world to work out who they might be and why they're anonymous.

And there are other places, in scripture and tradition, where we learn names in quite surprising ways. The Creeds – well, two of them, Apostles' and Nicean, is the prime example. What is an insignificant and in the end really rather unsuccessful career politician from an obscure province of the Roman Empire doing there? And there's another one in today's Gospel, another Roman governor probably best forgotten. Yet here they are….why?

Perhaps part of the answer is the insistence on our faith and historical; the Jesus of history and the Christ of Faith are one, and scripture and tradition are testimony to that.

So, today, Jesus steps into history at a particular place, in a particular time, in a particular context; the context of a census, called by a nervy Roman governor. And so a young couple travel to Bethlehem.

Of course, we see a Bethlehem – a crib – behind us. Like most things that are really good, really innovative in the Church, it's a Franciscan invention, born of the Franciscan love for the simple, the particular, the concrete – God amongst us.

And it's particularly appropriate it is on our altar, because Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’ – Christ gives himself to us in the child in the manger, in his broken flesh on the Cross, and in the broken bread and wine outpoured, the food of life and the food of joy, the sacrament of the altar.

And this moment in history, in all its particularity and concreteness, is also universal, transforming of every time and every place, a pattern of transfigurative moments, a fractured story of justice and mutuality woven into the grain of history, yet somehow running against it.

It is poignant at this time, because the little town of Bethlehem is torn apart by a wall, a concrete emblem in the most literal and crass sense of our capability of violence to one another; and we see the human cost of the wars of today's empires, fought in the name of security.  Truly, Lord have mercy.

Yet it is on this altar, this Bethlehem, that we celebrate the sacrament of the new creation; of that transfiguration that is both beyond the world, and yet immanent within it, in that hidden pattern of hope and justice, that never denies the tragic dimension of life – for, our Messiah is come as the vulnerable child of marginal refugee parents, and as a tortured and executed political criminal, a form so utterly outrageous as to make it almost invisible. Almost.  For we are called to be those who see all this, and trust and hope in God’s ‘and yet…’

For, God’s promise, his strange justice, his paradoxical power, is indeed moulded on the tiny frame of the child in the manger, on the broken body of the political criminal on the Cross, on that same body in his glorious Resurrection; and we are called to witness to that promise, that there is not anything in all creation that can finally fall out of God’s sense for the world. Amen.


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