Christmas is coming; this will therefore be the last blog of 2021, the next one will appear in January 2022. As we approach Christmas, many of us will have last year in mind, with cancelled and changed plans, and another lockdown looming; this year, we had hoped, would be more normal. Then along comes the Omicron variant, knocking aside all our assumptions, and leaving us wondering what is best to do, and what next year holds. Many others will never celebrate their usual ‘normal’ Christmas again, in the absence of those who have died; although, hopefully, a new normal will in time establish itself for them. Yet what is Christmas, and why do we celebrate it? Yes, it’s a midwinter festival, a time of lights in a darkening season, a time to gather and rejoice with family and friends; it is also a time to celebrate the birth of a baby in a stable, the Saviour of the world made flesh.
But what does that really mean for us? We know the story so well, and is it tempting to concentrate on the safe aspects, a childlike story with little relevance for our daily lives? a nice myth, bearing little resemblance to reality? Even for those of us who worship, who follow that baby, do we really take time to ponder its deeper meaning? We know the story so well: the shepherds, the kings, the donkey. Repeated nativity plays, wonderful as they are, may well enforce in our subconscious the idea that this is really a story for small children. We worship the God made flesh, the incarnate God, but really: this bit is for others.
Yet what this story is telling us is that God became human for us. We know this, we celebrate it every year. God became a baby for us. We know, this year of all others, how vulnerable babies and small children are. Many of you will know that far better than me. Yet God became that vulnerable for us. Not just once upon a time, 2 000 years ago in a stable, but now and at all times. How easy was it for God to become that vulnerable? I’ve no idea, but I guess that vulnerability wasn’t a new thing. God is love, and love is vulnerable. Just read some of the Old Testament prophets to hear that love, that vulnerability, come achingly through. Even the angry passages: what are they, but a God of love, trying to get through to humanity where it had gone wrong? Yet read Hosea, or some passages of Isaiah, for instance, where God makes it clear how much he loves, and how much it hurts when we go astray.
We worship a vulnerable God; one who is calling us now, to come, follow. Not that following God will sort all our problems out; not that following God will magically protect us from the Omicron variant; but that following God puts us in touch with a God who loves us so completely that He was prepared to become totally vulnerable, and put Himself in our care, in our world, as Jesus: the tiny baby, the wandering preacher, the dying Saviour: our risen Lord.
That God is calling us still: ‘Listen – I call you; I call you here, now: from where you are in your shame, in your fear, I call you: for I am committed to you; I call you out of compassion for you, for I am the Lord your God, I am the one who created you; I call you, for I am the one committed to you, who loves you. I have covered your shame; you have no need of fear – for I am the Lord your God, who has come to save you, who has come to where you are to bring you back to me. I call you, and you can trust me, be vulnerable with me – for I love you and I will take care of you; I will be with you through the storms, and I will remain with you through the darkness: for I am the Lord your God who came to you as a tiny child; who comes to you, calling you, to come to me, as vulnerable, small. Come to me, for I call you.’ Can we come, vulnerable, to our vulnerable God today? As we celebrate Christmas – however we celebrate it – can we remember that the baby at the centre of it all is our God, who is calling for us to follow? Can we see the total vulnerability, the total love contained that brought that baby to earth for us? Can we, will we, respond to the call to follow where that baby leads? Not just this Christmas but throughout the year as well.