The ancient cadence of the Authorised Version will herald for many throughout the world the beginnings not only of the celebration of Christmas this year but also perhaps be the herald of new birth within themselves or in their immediate family.
The fact of new birth cannot escape any who live in this parish or who worship at Saint John’s. Wherever we look we see evidence of expectant mothers, hard working parents, and satisfied (sometimes not so satisfied!) children. It is a sign that the area is one in which families of every kind may find a home. Within our church community we too have rejoiced with those who have given birth during this year, as well as those who are expecting children in the coming year. We have wept too with those who have lost little children, those who have been unable to conceive, and those who have miscarried. The joys and possibilities of giving birth stand alongside the heartbreak of not being able to have children, as well as the challenges, which are faced by parents with growing families.
Even those among us with happy and healthy families will know that health and happiness are equally fragile. And we do not have to look very far in our world to see the tragedy of families living in the midst of violence and deprivation. My guess is that in those situations the most vital issue for a child is not that he or she has one biological mother and father but whether they are loved protected and cared for. There is a great deal being spoken of at present about the importance of a “normal” family life and it has set me wondering about just how “normal” the conception and birth of Jesus of Nazareth must have appeared to the friends and family of Mary and Joseph. There must have been many questions raised by that particular way of living the life of a “normal” Jewish family! But in the end we know and trust that what was paramount was the love engendered by the particular grouping of Mary, Joseph and the child Jesus. Just so for us in the joys and challenges of birthing and raising children in our own days.
Christianity is unique in having at its heart the birth of God on earth as a little baby. Other religions certainly have birth stories as part of their tradition and revelation but Christianity alone has the birth of a child as its origin. It has significance for our world because it heralds the importance that every child is a manifestation of God, and it has significance for us because the story of the birth of Jesus reminds us of just how embracing is God’s love for us. The love that “came down at Christmas” is one that embraces us all, however we are placed and whomever we love. The new birth we read of with wonder and perhaps longing is ours within us. This is the greatest gift of Christmas. It is the greatest gift, which an honest and compassionate Christianity may offer our world. The gift of allowing ourselves, our companions, our children, our friends to be “born” this Christmas is a gift worth singing about.
Your Friend and Vicar,