Earlier this year a friend of mine saw a picture I had taken and said, ‘That’s it, that’s your Christmas sermon sorted.’ I have to admit I had forgotten about it in the interim. And then a recent conversation reminded me – of a particular crib, in a refugee camp in southern Iraq. And everything about the circumstances of that picture grabbed hold of me. This was a nativity – this was THE nativity, lived over and over and over again in every generation. THIS is how the world is saved, how each and every one of us is saved, when we are able to see our own families, our ourselves, our innermost, frail selves in the child that needs to be loved, and needs the care of others. This is humanity at its most helpless. We are each of us that child, needing to be loved – and needing to love back.
Amid Mary’s outpouring in the Magnificat – her cry at the new from the Angel Gabriel that she was to be the bearer of the saviour of the world; amid humanity’s cry for freedom from tyranny, for justice in the face of oppression and crushing poverty for some while the wealthy play, comes not a vanquishing army – but a child, born into poverty himself, in a place of exile, in the basest of surroundings amongst a nation subject to the whim of rule that forces displacement of whole peoples. This is where hope lies – in the meanest of places. The only means for hope to survive is when others do what they can, with the little at their disposal, to ensure hope has a chance.
When our group of foreign visitors, people of faith from various parts of the world, considered wise by some and foolish by others – for we entered this land of war trusting our fate to God and the hosts who sought our presence – when our group entered the container, holding eight other families, we were told to be silent, to be still, for in this tiny compartment a newborn baby lay sleeping. In hushed voices, we surrounded the tiny, covered frame and heard the story of this place, of families left bereft of home and livelihood, having lost loved ones to a terrible violence – escaping war and seeking a place of safety in the desert. A proud brother and sister, like a tiny Mary and Joseph, stood guard over where the child lay – the mother too shy to enter.
And there we stood in awe, Arab, North African, European, Asian, American, Muslim and Christian, travelling from afar and from near, in wonder at this child that lay before us. There too were the shepherds, the local villagers giving of their own homes and fields, as refuge for this holy family. Will this child survive the harsh conditions? Will this child survive the war that ravages his nation? Will this child know that it is loved, and cared for, and cherished? Or will this child instead feel the bitterness of loss, of frustration, of violence and hate?
This child presents us with a mirror on our own selves. How this child lives and grows will be in a world of our making. We cannot pluck just one child out of these conditions – we must make the conditions for all of these children better where they are, and the places where they seek sanctuary and safety, into places of welcome and healing and love; and we can in our own lives seek to treat one another as we would that tiny child. This is the hope that is set before us, it is a hope that lies within our own hands, within our own lives, and minds and hearts and actions. It is a hope God has created us to share with one another. It is God’s hope that is born in us this day.