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
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.