4th Sunday of Advent – Christmas Eve
We are here. The 4th Sunday in Advent. Christmas Eve. The season of waiting for the coming of Christ. We’ve been to carol services, started on mince pies and watched the nativity plays.
Last Sunday I was at the Ballyholme children’s nativity. In it, the little Angel tells the little Joseph the amazing things that would happen – how Mary, his fiancée, was going to have a baby, but it was God’s plan. Joseph listens, pauses, and responds with a beautifully underwhelmed, “oh, OK.” The congregation laughed.
But I thought that sometimes the familiar Christmas story can be like that for us.
Luke’s story is so well known to us – its phrases are embedded in our memory: “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel” … “You will name him Jesus.” Words so familiar that our response is sometimes like wee Joseph in the nativity – “OK.” A feeling of being underwhelmed.
But the story of Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary is about being overwhelmed.
We should be overwhelmed by that mystery of the Immortal God became mortal, that the Infinite God became a foetus in a womb. The Invisible God took on flesh.
We should be astounded that, at Christmas (as the Apostle Paul recounts in today’s Epistle reading), “the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages…is now disclosed to everyone.”
We should be overwhelmed as we remember how God intervened in human history. Because that is what Christmas is about.
Firstly… God chose to become a helpless baby. In an ordinary family. With an ordinary name.
Imagine the Son of God as a growing foetus within a womb. Imagine God stepping from the Infinity of Heaven to finite Earth. Stepping across Eternity, into Time. Taking flesh, and dwelling among us.
The God whose name was so holy it would not be uttered by the Jews, took an ordinary human name. To a Jew this was inconceivable. God was “the Almighty,” “the One Above” and they would not say the name of God. Yet the Angel Gabriel tells Mary that the Son of the Most High would be given the common human name, Yeshua. Or Joshua. Or Jesus as we know it. An ordinary name that many boys would have had.
Today, when we baptise Adebobola and Adeyomola we remember that God took a human name. And that the ordinary name, Jesus, became the name above all names.
Secondly… God chose a nobody.
Imagine Mary. A very young woman. Lowly. Poor. As a woman, she was of no importance – in fact, Jewish men thanked God that they were not Gentiles, slaves, or women. Mary, the nobody, finds favour with God. The Lord was with her.
Couples are overwhelmed when they discover they are having a baby – As Alex and Mary here would have been. But the Mary of the Gospel is overwhelmed for other reasons. How could this be? She asks. In the Magnificat – which Mary sings (later in Luke chapter 1 – which we say as a canticle on Sundays) – Mary tells us that she is amazed that God chose her, a girl so lowly, to bear God’s son. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.”
Thirdly… God chooses a nowhere land (as the Beatles put it).
Imagine Nazereth. In Jesus’ time, a small village of only a few hundred people. Not somewhere important at all. People didn’t have a high opinion of Nazereth – as Nathanael says of Jesus in John 1:46, “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?”
We should be amazed at what happened at Christmas. In an obscure village, God becomes a foetus in the womb of an obscure woman. As the Apostle Paul puts it in the Epistle to the Corinthians, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”
We should be overwhelmed as we move from Advent to Christmas and celebrate God breaking into history and time.
As we sang, this was the one “born a child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, and bring his gracious kingdom.” In our Old Testament reading, Nathan announces God’s plan for David’s descendants. God refuses David’s offer to build a house for the ark of God’s presence. Instead, God says he will establish David’s house forever. Luke points back to this, when he tells us that Joseph is “of the house of David.” The Angel’s words to Mary show God’s promise to David is being fulfilled: “the Lord God will give to Jesus the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” The familiar Christmas carols echo this fulfillment of the promise to David. “Once in Royal David’s City,” we sing. And in While shepherd’s watch their flocks by night we sing, “to you in David’s Town this day, is born of David’s line, the Saviour who is Christ the Lord.”
The Jews were waiting for coming of the Messiah – But they just expected God to come and rescue them from their political oppression and darkness. Like us, the Jews were not very overwhelmed at Jesus’ birth. They never expected God’s promised Messiah to arrive this way. That God would become flesh within the womb of a lowly woman and bring the Kingdom of God on earth as he come to dwell among us.
Today, instead of being overwhelmed by God breaking into our world, we see Christmas itself overwhelmed by many other things.
We are overwhelmed by Santa Claus. Santa is wonderful for children. I loved the magical excitement. But a recent survey of 1,000 five to 12-year olds is sobering. Many children have no idea what Christmas is about. 52 per cent thought it was Santa’s birthday. 35 per cent thought Jesus was born at the South Pole. One in five thought Jesus was a footballer for Chelsea. Some thought he was an astronaut or X-Factor contestant.
We are overwhelmed with stress. It is a time of high relational and family conflict. A time of economic difficulty. Of physical exhaustion. Of loneliness. Of absent loved ones. An article in The Guardian newspaper talked of “Festive stress: why the Christmas season can be anything but merry.”
We are overwhelmed by the excitement in cities and homes with the sense that everything is escalating towards Christmas day: The dinner, the pudding and cake, Santa, gifts.
It is lovely. And special. But are we overwhelmed by the Christmas story. Of how God took flesh and vulnerability to dwell among us?
This is the magnificent story, the astounding and exciting story we should return to. The story that starts with the Angel’s visit to Mary and gathers momentum to the birth of the Son of the Most High in a manger, and the visits of the shepherds and Wise men.
The meaning of Christmas should overwhelm us. What the Apostle Paul calls “the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages …now disclosed to everyone” should amaze us.
People today think that God is irrelevant. That Jesus is irrelevant.
But Christmas tells us that Jesus is supremely relevant. For he is God come to us. To lighten the darkness within our lives. In the baptism we will give Mary and Alex a Candle as a sign that Christ is the light of the world and the light of Adebobola’s and Adeyomola’s lives.
In Jesus, God comes to us to save us from fears. From terror of death. Our grief. Our guilt. He meets our need for forgiveness. He brings the peace we long for.
As the closing words of Luke 1 describes the coming of Jesus:
“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
We should be overwhelmed by the coming of Christ.