Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
The world is on the verge of war – so blame the warmongers. It is on the edge of bankruptcy, so blame the bankers. It cannot afford the welfare payments it has promised itself so blame the claimants and politicians. Its very means of industrial production and consumption have led to the despoliation of its environment so blame the producers. Its news is uniformly awful so blame the journalists. Blame everybody in fact except the person we meet when we look in the mirror every morning, for that would be too radical.
Better still, blame God for having created it all in the first place. Perhaps He should have made us so that we would not reject Him, abuse one another or violate His creation.
Here perhaps we come closer to the truth, for in creating us God gave us freedom and choice, and with them responsibility for making the right choices in our loyalties, relationships and transactions.
In seeing what had become of His world with its life and humanity, God also had choices: He could have destroyed it as a false start – and yes, there have been mass extinctions in the past. He could turn His back on the whole thing and ignore it – or He could engage with it more intimately than any might imagine.
And that commitment was enacted by making Himself wholly vulnerable, and subject to the very forces now despoiling the world. Over time they may have grown in scope with human technology, but with time they have not changed their character.
And so, yes, God made Himself entirely subject to all the hatred and violence and perversion and distortion of truth that the world was capable of contriving.
He chose to be born into the heart of a homeless family, who would soon become refugees, within a land occupied by a military and legal regime of unparalleled power. He was born into a land of distorted morality, not wholly unlike our own regime of political correctness.
But God did far more than enjoy a self-destructive bout of prurient self-righteousness, existential anxiety or critical self-doubt. This might be the stance of choice of some of our celebrated moralists today, but in Jesus God continued to create. He did so by living a life exposed to all the hatred and moral bile that His culture could muster, while living faithfully within the will and the law of God.
Instead of escaping, Jesus was wholly engaged with the dilemmas of human life, and His message was simple and stark: Yes: there is a way out of this moral and spiritual morass but you have to want it.
You have to want it enough to commit yourself to it, in all parts of your life and its relationships and transactions. You have to be willing to let the mercy and miracle of God grow within yourselves, and to see yourself as part of the problem which in the mercy of God can be solved. It means letting God renew His creation within each personal life, and that he is wholly willing to do.
Just as Jesus began His earthly life as a baby and grew in all respects – physical, social, educational and spiritual – so we also have to start where we are and allow God to lead us in a new kind of life.
If Jesus had lived only to write books and to offer wisdom like serving suggestions on a food packet, then he would have been separated from the very evils He came to overcome.
Instead, Jesus confronted them, directly and personally. He did so in His ministry of teaching, healing and above all forgiving. He did it in allowing the opposition to His teaching and His life and His very being to come to Him, face to face and eyeball to eyeball.
Above all He allowed them to visit on Him all the hatred and violence that that they could muster, without resistance or violence of His own.
If God was to face down the evil to which the world had become subject, then He would go all the way without hesitation or argument, and so Jesus allowed His own life and being to lead Him to the cross and the most degrading of forms of execution then available.
This was the kind of love that had no limits and it made no reservations. It did not argue, either with God or with the people determined against Him. He followed the path of total love, as a man dreading it but in obedience to God wholly accepting it.
Some may wonder why Jesus had to go to the cross, and why God demanded it: surely that was unfair and vindictive. Surely there was another way?
Well, yes, there were alternatives which were presented to Jesus and which He rejected deliberately and consistently.
But ask this question: how can that which is wholly pure and uncontaminated abide that which is not?
How can the brightness and heat of the sun negotiate with what is combustible?
How can the author and source of life compromise with death and destruction and corruption?
No, the only way that God could confront the depths of human self-destruction was to enter them personally and then to overcome them personally.
In Jesus God entered them and as God, the Father raised Jesus from death to overcome its own sense of violation of the very life that He had created.
The baby born in Bethlehem has nothing to do with the soft and sentimental love of ballad and folk-memory. It is the very wholeness of God given so that we may see it and come to know it.
God offers us His vulnerability and simplicity so that these may be born in us and that we may in turn grow towards His majesty and glory.
Like Mary, we may ask “How can it be?” and like her we may also learn that with God, nothing is impossible.