A sermon by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson

Luke 2:1-20

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying… Amen.

What have we come to see? What have we come to hear?

We have entered the Cathedral this Christmas Day, expectant. We may come here often; we may come only once a year, it doesn’t matter. We have come.

What have we brought with us? The smell of smoke from the bushfires that are raging across our country, the images of fires burning out of control, the knowledge that many, many of our fellow South Australians, fellow Australians are now without their homes and a few … including two fire fighters, fathers of little children … have lost their lives. Did we see the photo of those fire fighters’ helmets on the plaque surrounded with flowers? Those brave young men who will not see Christmas Day? Did we see the images of fire fighters lying exhausted on the ground, knowing that they would still be needed to fight fires for the days, weeks, months ahead?

Have we bought worry with us? Worry about our planet and the warming that now seems to be impossible to deny. Worry about the plastics that clog our seas and that we struggle to greatly to break away from using. Worry about our family, perhaps, or a dear friend, facing illness or frailty, or grief. Have we lost someone we love dearly this last year? Have we brought grief with us?

Or have we brought joy? Was a child born in our family, was some study done well, have we treasured family and friends so deeply this year we have come thinking in joy and gratitude about the blessing of their presence in our lives? Have we found our vocation, the work or the way of living that brings us to life, is that what we’ve brought this Christmas morning?

For we bring our life story here. As we walk through the doors we bring our life story here. And what do we encounter? What have we come to see? What have we come to hear? Something of God’s story, I think.

Just as we have, the shepherds came all those years ago.

The shepherds are living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night, so the story goes. And an angel from God comes, with the glory of God shining about them, and the shepherds are terrified. People are usually terrified when they sense God’s presence in an unexpected way, when an angel comes. The word for angel in the language of the gospel stories means ‘messenger’. God is telling us something when an angel comes. And we are always shaken by that. Be careful, angels don’t always have golden wings. They might not have wings at all. But we’ll sense God’s presence. We’ll sense love addressing us, grace enfolding us. The angel says to the shepherds, ‘Do not be afraid.’ It is the first thing angels always say. And then they tell their news and they guide us as to what we are to do, what God would have us do. ‘I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’   And the angels sing to the shepherds, about the glory of God and about peace coming, peace coming to the whole earth. Once the angels have left, the shepherds go, go quickly, and find things just as the angels have said. There in the stable are Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.

Just as we have come into the cathedral this Christmas morning, the shepherds come.

And what they see is that God has come. God has come to live among us. God has come to see us, to hear us, to dwell among us. God has come as a baby to show us that where we are little and vulnerable and new, God is. God has come through the courage and faith of Mary and Joseph to show us that when we struggle to find courage and to have faith, God is with us. God has come in the most unlikely place, a stable in a village in a far away country amidst poor and unimportant people to show us that wherever we are and whoever we are, God arrives amongst us.

We might worry, though, that after we’ve journeyed to see this holy thing, we will find the manger empty, just a trough where the oxen and the sheep feed. Imagine that as we approach from a distance the stable looks empty. When the bushfires are raging out of control, when illness strikes one we love, when we wonder how to hope, the stable looks empty. Imagine the loneliness of it, the hopelessness of it. And then, imagine coming closer, and seeing the baby there. Imagine the shock, the questions in our minds. Imagine the wonder, the hope. Imagine the possibility that God has come. That God sees. That God loves. That God is living with us, standing by us, guiding us on. In times of bushfire. In the struggle to care for our planet. In times of illness, in vales of grief, in times of joy. Might we look into the manger, and see the baby, and wonder.

Could it be? Could it be that God inhabited this earth for a time, lived and died and rose again in Jesus, the one whose name means saviour, so that we know that God inhabits this earth now, is with us now?

What has God come to see, to hear? Us. All of us. And the dear earth that God created for us to call our home.

We heard of shepherds travelling to visit a stable. What did they find there, those shepherds? As they gazed at that baby lying in a manger all that time ago? What do we find? That stable scene in Bethlehem is as earthy and broken as any place on our planet at any time in its history. It is as earthy and broken as our time and our place. And it is woven with images of God. Angels and stars and wise men on camels bearing gifts that point to the divinity and humanity of that baby. God came down from heaven that night, the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us there in that stable, Emmanuel, God with us, embraced a human life that we humans might know that God holds each and every one of our lives, and the life of this beloved planet, in his embrace. We come to this story struggling as Mary and Joseph and every other member of its cast did with extraordinary call and action of God. That God brings hope into this broken world. That God is deeply in love with this utterly earthly place.

What have we come to see? What have we come to hear?

Our story held. The story of our own life, the life of our loved ones, our community and our world, held. Held in the story of God. God who loves, God who walks with us, God who brings healing and peace. Yes. God is deeply in love with this utterly earthly place. God is born in this utterly earthly place.