A Christmas Sermon

Incarnation.  Taking on flesh.  God slipping into skin.  Or that wonderful image from John’s Gospel of the Word moving into the neighbourhood.

What a amazing image.  Isn’t it?

It’s hard to get your head around it though, that God would bother.  That God would be so vulnerable, so tiny, so frail, so dependant.

There are so many other ways that God could have chosen to sort the world out.  He could have become a king, an emperor, a Caesar and ruled over all the world with power and military might.

But that’s not what God chose.

God chose the least.  The very least. A poor, unmarried teenager.  Most of us wouldn’t trust a teenager with a doll… but God isn’t most of us.  Mary said ‘yes’.  That was good enough for God to trust her with everything.

Luke is so matter of fact about it all…

“So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”

God chose the very least of places.  Jerusalem is just up the road.  The capital.  The city on a hill.  The shining heart of a religious kingdom.  The Temple, the Holy of Holies… but God chose somewhere else.  Bethlehem.  Even the prophet Micha calls Bethlehem the runt of the litter.

What a place to start something new.

What a place to change everything.

We often talk about doing what Jesus would do or trying to work out what God’s priorities are, but we should know.  Our problem isn’t that God hasn’t spelt it out for us.  Our problem is that we so often try our best to avoid the hard bits, the difficult places and the awkward situations where we come face to face with the least.  We avoid those moments that make us think about how we live and what our priorities are.

What makes this story even more remarkable is that it didn’t just start in a nice house in Bethlehem.  It started in a stable, a barn, a cave out the back.  That makes no sense.  Jews are honour bound to provide hospitality, especially to family.  Joseph is returning to Bethlehem because that’s where he is from.  It is his city.  So why does he have nowhere to go?  Why does Joseph have no family they can stay with?  No floor they can sleep on?

It’s a question we never ask, but was Joseph an outsider too?  Was he the strange cousin that left Bethlehem for Nazareth?  It’s hardly moving up in the world so why go?  What was it that made Joseph leave in the first place?  This wasn’t really a time when the population was mobile like today.  Carpentry is the family trade so why would Joseph leave?  And why wasn’t he welcome when he went home?

Perhaps because now he turns up with his pregnant teenage bride to be…

I wonder how many people said ‘No!’.  I wonder how many people thought first of the shame and dishonour taking in these distant relatives would bring before they even saw a woman in the first stages of labour?  That strong system of honour, bound up in religious laws, was a difficult thing to break.

So Mary and Joseph they end up in with the animals in the muck and the stink because a stranger saw their need and said ‘Yes!’.

And there, almost literally outside, Jesus was born.  God slipped into skin.  Fragile, tiny, shivering, girning skin and lived among us.

Even the prophets didn’t really get that bit, did they?  They foretold a great king of David’s line.  David was the shepherd boy who became Israel’s greatest ever king, the unlikely hero whom God raised up.

This child would renew the line.  He would bring peace, unite the kingdoms for good, rule justly and honourably.

But that’s not what God had in mind.

God chose the least as witnesses.  Not courtiers, not noblemen and women.  Shepherds were the first to know.

Shepherds?  Could there be a more inappropriate bunch to visit God?

Shepherds were the outsiders, the least religious of their time.  Their job meant that they were out in the fields or on the hills with the sheep.  They never went to church.  They couldn’t maintain the strict purity laws and ritual washing.  They were literally and metaphorically unclean.  Perfect.

There was no big show at the Temple.  No announcement at the Synagogue.  Instead there were angels on a hillside singing of God’s glory to those who were supposedly cut off from it by the religious authorities.

And the shepherds say ‘Yes!’.  They leave their sheep and rush to see what God is doing.

The story of the incarnation, the story of God taking on skin, is a story which points us firmly towards God’s priorities.  This is a story which starts in a stable, travels through the back end of nowhere, collects the waifs and strays along the way and ends up with an execution on a rubbish dump.  If we need to ask where God wants us to be this Christmas after reading that story then the only problem is us.

So, the waiting is almost over, the tree is trimmed, the parcels wrapped, well some of them are… food preparations are underway.


For some, Christmas brings a rush of activity to get all the last minute tasks done.

For others, Christmas brings a calm approach as they quietly prepare to welcome the Christ child again.

And for others, still, Christmas brings a desperate struggle just to survive another day.


Because it’s Christmas…

means little to the homeless young woman sheltering under the railway bridge, trying to keep her Christmas box wrappings dry so that she can sleep under them another night.

Because it’s Christmas…

has no impact on the heroin addict wandering the High Street checking out “opportunities” for his next fix.

Because it’s Christmas…

brings no comfort to the young parent trying to do the best for their children while sick with worry about their partner off fighting in Afghanistan.

Because it’s Christmas…

will not change a thing unless we allow the baby God to leave the swaddling behind, unless we embody Christ in our lives and work to bring peace and hope and light into all the darkness of today’s world.

Because it’s Christmas…

will not change a thing unless we allow the God of Christmas to be born in our hearts and lives this day and every day, because it’s Christmas.

God chose the least.

God chose Mary and Joseph, a stable in Bethlehem, shepherds and outcasts… and moved into their neighborhood.

And trusted them with Jesus, His only Son.  Amen