Titus 3. 4 – 7
Luke 2. 1 – 20
According to urban legend, during the Christmas of 1948 a Washington DC radio station asked ambassadors from a number of countries in the capital their preferred Christmas gift, and the replies were recorded for a special holiday broadcast.
The expected answers were intoned: “Peace throughout the world,” from the French ambassador; “Prosperity and freedom for all,” said another.
And then a call went through to Sir Oliver Franks, the representative of Her Majesty’s Government. “Well, it’s very kind of you to ask,” he replied. “I’d quite like a box of crystallized fruit.”
I wonder what gift you really wanted this year. I’m sure we’re all in favour of peace and prosperity throughout the world. But I’m sure a bit of a festive treat was high on the menu too – and that’s ok!
I can’t help but think of the kind of gift so many people in our country might be hoping for this Christmas. To be able to heat their homes. To be able to afford food for their families.
I don’t think we need to wonder what people are longing for in Ukraine, or South Sudan, or Yemen, or all those war zones that don’t make the news – peace and safety, and the restoration of ordinary life.
There might be situations in our own lives that we feel anxious about, or even hopeless.
How do we make sense of that? What difference does Christmas Day make to all of it?
First, I have a confession to make. A lot of Christmas films go on in our house in the run up to Christmas. You might expect the Vicarage to be a pretty austere place until Christmas Eve, and if Fr Scrooge here had his way, it probably would be! But I tend to get outvoted on these things at home.
We had one on recently called ‘The Santa Clause’ – you might’ve seen it. It’s a film about a man who, through a series of accidents, becomes the real Santa Clause. After he spends Christmas delivering gifts all around the world, he ends up at the North Pole, where he’s trying to make sense of the experience he's just had.
He's staring out of a window at the incredible sight of the streets outside, turns to an elf named Judy and says: “There’s a polar bear out there directing traffic. I see it, but I don’t believe it.”
And Judy responds: “Seeing isn’t believing; believing is seeing.”
Seeing isn’t believing; believing is seeing.
As Christians, when we look at the world, we see differently. As St Paul says, we walk by faith, and not by sight. We don’t look at the world and judge by what our eyes see, but what our faith reveals to us.
Because the gift that we celebrate today – the gift of God himself, born as one of us – this gift turns our perception of the world upside down.
Through faith, we see a poor, insignificant girl, Mary, become the Mother of God, and the Queen of Heaven. Lowly shepherds, right at the bottom of the social ladder, become the first witnesses of the Saviour. The manger, an animal’s feeding trough, becomes a throne, cradling the King of all creation.
Through faith, we look at a helpless child in a manger in the dark of a Bethlehem night, and see instead the power of God, and the light of the world.
And through faith, when we look at a situation that causes us anxiety or distress – or the chaos of the world around us; instead of feeling hopeless and alone, we know that God is with us, in all of it, and will remain with us.
Because he has been through it, as one of us: he shares our hopes and fears. This child is born in poverty, soon to be a refugee. He knows how it feels to be left out, rejected, on the outside; the terrible pain of all the worst things that human beings can do to each other.
It makes no sense at all that the creator of such a mind-bogglingly big universe should care about the things we care about. But the story of Christmas shows that he does. He shows us his face; he speaks words of comfort to us; he shows us how to live his life of love; he shows us that we matter to him.
So as we rejoice on this holy day, let us take time to be like Mary in our Gospel reading, and treasure this great gift, and ponder it in our hearts.
Let us not forget it as the tinsel comes down and the lights go away for another year. Because the Lord Jesus won’t go away – he gives us the gift of his presence for ever. Amen.