And so here we are at the beginning of the season which is officially called “Incarnation”.
Incarnation. A funny word. “St. John unfolds the mystery of the incarnation” is the traditional introduction to the Gospel. Never “explains” but unfolds the mystery. Incarnation is a mysterious word. What does it mean?
It’s a church word, really, you don’t hear it used anywhere else. So people tend to think that it is a theological term, a term beyond them. But it really isn’t. I want to say to you tonight that if you want to know what incarnation is all about, what this Christmas story is all about, come round to our house.
Our house has been a mess for the last few weeks. And so, to a certain extent, are our emotions. Our first Christmas with our boy, who we adopted ten months ago now, but moving house at the same time… Everything that I need is in boxes, and everything that I don’t need is all over the place. I have bidden a tearful farewell to my blissful plan of sorting things out, producing order, careful alphabetising of CDs. My world is in a certain amount of chaos. And in the middle of that chaos we have an extraordinarily excited five year old, spending his first Christmas with his new Mum and Dad, and not really caring about presents and toys and Santa, but just loving being part of a family.
So if you want to know what the Incarnation is, what this crib scene is, it’s our house. A hell of a mess, emotions all over the place, and an enormous amount of love. That’s what Christmas, incarnation is about. A hell of a mess, and a shocking amount of love.
We talk a lot about Jesus coming among us as a vulnerable child. A helpless baby. I’ve preached about that in the past. And in some ways that’s a helpful description, because it says something about the vulnerability of love. But the reality is, babies are the most powerful beings in the world. Anyone would do anything for a baby. Who would refuse a small child needing help? Who would not move heaven and earth to save a child from danger or sadness? The only people who would walk by would be those who were incapable of emotion, the pathological. Every well human being is affected by a helpless child, and will help a child in a way that they would help no-one else.
What is it about children that make us so willing to help? Some might say simply evolution, and of course that plays its part. But I think it is because we see very clearly in children, honest and genuine needs. We are suspicious of adults, but with a child we see their need. We help because they need help. And if we an adult’s need as clearly, we help them too.
Their helplessness stirs the desire to help. Their need for love and care produces love and care in us. And that is incarnation. Communion. The God in us reaching out to the God in them. I don’t care, frankly whether you call it evolutionary instinct, or altruism or whatever, but the fact is that Children are all powerful not because of their own power, but because of the love that is in us.
And when we are moved with compassion, when love is drawn out of us like that, our world becomes chaotic. Our lives, our plans, our hopes, everything takes a back seat. Everything changes, as our priorities change. If I’ve learnt nothing this year, I’ve learnt that. Katie and I had lots of plans. Building a eco-house, writing, travelling. And they have all gone now that we have Gavin. And I don’t miss them one bit.
If there is one thing that our birth story tells me it is that Love is chaotic. People talk about God’s plan! Well if God had a plan for his son, it was a really weird one. Jesus’ entire life was chaotic. There was no order, no inevitability. He just went where love followed him, and that led eventually to the cross.
Love doesn’t have a plan. Love’s only plan is to love. Love makes no more demands than that.
The two great feasts of the Christian church are not ones where we worship an all-powerful God. Christmas and Easter are where we are moved by compassion by what we see, feasts of love, warmth towards God. Our God, here in the stable, is someone we want to look after.
The Christ who was born this night does not grow in power in his life, his life is a constant giving away of power. Is a constant re-commitment to vulnerability and helplessness.
When we respond to the Christ child, to the cry of the vulnerable, to the calling of the poor, the bereaved, the sick, the anxious. When we share in the joy of the joyful, when we respond with love to those in need of love, then the God within us meets the Christ in them. And somewhere within that, in that fuzzy and mysterious mess that is love, God is present. And that is incarnation.
Love and chaos. The two so often go together hand in hand. We love to have plans, we love to have things ordered, be it moving house or marriage or life. If we are to truly celebrate Christmas, let us embrace the messiness, the fuzzines, the instability of love. Let us allow the mystery of the incarnation to unfold in all it’s strangeness. Because where God is present, like in the stable, like in our lives, there is a hell of a lot of mess, and a shocking amount of love.