Vicar's Sermon - Christmas Day
He was to be the first. The first to be seen. The first to step out of the night and to speak. The order had come from on high and there was no going back. ‘Just get on and do it’ whispered the others, but it was easy for them. They could come on stage once he’d made a entrance and do their thing but he was the one who had to make first contact.
I’ll wait’ he said. ‘I’ll wait until they are ready’.
‘But that’s the point’ said his closest neighbour rather pointedly ‘they’ll never be ready for this’.
The angel began to feel something he had never felt before: you and I would call it ‘fear’ but he had no vocabulary to explain it. He had seen Gabriel nine months earlier return from the visit to Mary – shattered by the experience. He wasn’t sure whether he could cope with the change in himself that this visitation would entail. ‘These humans’ Gabriel would explain ‘they are magnificent creatures. I simply had to kneel in her presence.... her capacity for bearing God’s image...quite, quite wonderful. No wonder the boss thinks a lot of them.’
‘Get on!’ The whispers from behind the curtain of darkness were getting more and more insistent...and then the angel felt a shove in the back and it was all he could do to look dignified as the shepherds beneath him covered their eyes in fear.
‘Oh Lord...what are the words?’ His mind was a blank...stage fright mixed with an overwhelming curiosity prompted by the scene before him left him struggling to think straight.. These shepherds...they didn’t look that impressive cowering next to their fire: not a touch of gold about them, pretty rough and ready...yet they were to be the first to hear the news.
‘Do not be afraid’ he blurted out...more to himself than to them ‘I bring you good news’. It was all coming back to him now but it had taken an age for him to learn the next line...the words just didn’t seem to make much sense.
‘To you’....to this rag tag bunch sat on a hill outside a town way past its best, passing the night telling crude jokes and drinking cheap wine whilst getting paid for pretending to look after someone’s sheep. ‘To you is born a saviour’. This bit plain confused the angel. Birth. Death. They weren’t concepts he understood. He felt he was speaking in a foreign language. ‘ ...born this day’. Time was a problem for him as well: living in eternity he had no conception of time. The message was certainly interesting news... but what about it made it ‘good’?
Like the rest of them, he would soon learn and marvel at the Creator’s wisdom. Later reflections on this moment would make it all clear to him. Since creation began he had thought that God wasn’t interested in what happened in the other place. So caught up with the vision of heaven he hadn’t noticed the Almighty at work down the centuries, preparing the ground for the moment when He might reveal himself in Time, born as a human being. ‘They need a Saviour...and He must come from within creation , not be imposed from without’. ‘They are magnificent creatures but they are broken and the world is broken’ the Lord explained ‘they have tried everything but they need saving from themselves, they need Me.’
It was true. Philosophies had come and gone. Great thinkers had thought their thoughts. Men and women ‘did their best’ but in the end the problem with the human condition was exactly that... ‘the human condition’. ‘They need me to show them how to do it.’ said the Almighty.
‘To you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord’. It sounded grand when spoken by an angel in full regimental dress but it seemed strange saying it that night. Those brief moments on the stage of the night sky had introduced the angel to the whole world – his divine eyes could see the Emperor Augustus in his palace and Quirinius enjoying a glass of wine in Syria. Not so far away he could see the great temple being built in Jerusalem and King Herod plotting the downfall of his own dysfunctional family. ‘Bethlehem’ was somewhat jaded in comparison to the palaces of the rich and mighty.
‘This will be the sign. You will find the child wrapped in bands and lying in a manger’.
‘The humility of the birth is what makes it so magnificent’, he had thought even as he spoke the words. ‘It could not have happened any other way. There is a rightness in this that points to Divine Wisdom at work’.
The message was meant for the people most likely to hear it – those who knew the world needed saving...those at the bottom of the pile who feel the rough edges of life the most and suffer its hurts and injustices the greatest. They would lap it up. They would be the first to respond: the ‘comfortable’, those cushioned against the world’s violence and cruelty would find it hard to swallow. But ‘message delivered’, they ran. The shepherds ran. Not in fear but in joy and hope that it just might be true that God had acted to change things once and for all, that the ‘anointed one, the Christ’ would bless and heal and challenge and persuade and save the world starting with this ‘way in a manger’.
Job done the angel returned to his division to report back to the commanding officer. ‘That wasn’t so bad was it?’ he was asked. ‘I’m not sure’ he replied ‘I’m still trying to take it all in.’