On the floor of this sanctuary was this silver gilt star, under an altar, surrounded by lanterns and candles, with a throng of people pushing in on every side. Finding myself pushed to the front I kneel down and kiss the star like everyone else did, as this was the place- the very spot, on which Christ is reported to have been born. As I got up and walked away from that moment I thought to myself, “huh, why does any of this matter?” The cave in which the star was felt empty and hollow, confused and markedly unholy. I expected to have this grand moment of awe inspiring divine connection, and instead I left with a sense of lament and annoyance. As we walked across the street away from the church of the Nativity, we saw a line of palestinian school kids walking towards the church. In their innocent, mischievous, wonderful faces, I saw a generation that has never known peace, going to worship at the spot where the prince of peace came to us in human flesh. In that moment, that broken and very human moment, I knew why this story we have heard for so many years means something- because its the story of us. Its the story of our Iconography, or Holy writing, of the nativity onto the tapestry of our broken world today. This story matters, because we matter.
There is nothing about this story which is normal or controlled. Like all the gospel’s, Gods presence through Christ among us upends the natural order of how things should be according to social convention. A king, in the days of Christ, would be born in a palace. Given sumptuous gifts and incredible visitors from around the world would come and see him. We’d have balls and parties for this new boy. Yet we gather around this feed stall, the smell of animals and dung hover thick in the air. Tatters of cloth are thrown together to protect this child from the cold, and the animals are eyeing up if this thing is food or foe. There is no gold throne, there is no diamonds or privilege. There is animal dung, hay, and frightened parents. Nothing about this image says silent night. Yet we come again to the edge of this crib and peer in, but this year is different. This year is no longer enough to just stand back and look in like a shop window, this year, we are invited to climb into the story. Climb into the manger, and see what all the fuss is about.
Hours after Mary gives birth in what would be one of the most unsanitary and largely exposed places in the world to give birth, she is now playing host to visitors of all kinds coming to see her newborn. This image of Mary as laidback and dutiful is one I really struggle with. For anyone who has ever been around child brith, we know that there is nothing calm about the process of child birth. It hurts. Its dirty. Its bloody. Its loud. Its a body wrecking experience which forever changes us. Dad or mom, we are changed by the entry of this new human into our lives. We are never ready enough, we are scared, we worry we will drop it, or screw it up somehow. We remember back to our own childhoods and write the lists of things we will do differently. And yet we see before us a reflection of ourselves. Something is woken within us that words can never express. We suddenly see something we have been waiting for present and full of love for us- for no other reason than we exist. This is the story of Christmas made real, because it is the story of us and how God comes to us because we simply exist. God wants to be so intimately connected to us that he comes in human form, as a weak, dependant, child, to look directly into our faces and reflect the incredible love God has for us, simply because we exist. We come tonight to carry this story with us into the world around us. We are called tonight to be an icon of the nativity.
The world changes tonight. It changes because we choose to climb into the crib next to christ. Notice with me the rough wood, the scratchy hay. Do you notice that newborn baby smell? The giggles and flailing arms? Do you see the birth blood on his arms? The umbilical cord tied off into a rough knot? Do you see his face? So chubby and warm? Look into his eyes, look into the eyes of a God who loves you more than there are stars in the sky, hours in the day, or hairs on your head. Look into his eyes and see the reflection of your own self. Look into his face and see the challenge, joy, struggle, grace, and annoyance of our life. See the imperfect nature of humanity redeemed through the perfect smile of a new baby. The world changes because God, in Christ, made room for our mess in the manger by being born in the mess of the manger. Tonight we step into our mess and own our identity as Christ’s own forever. Tonight the world changes because we are all Icons of the Nativity.
Icons are imperfect. There is something about them that is off. An eye, an arm, a wing, a halo. Something. It is this something that invites us into the story of this night. Like Icons, there are nothing perfect about our lives or even Christmas. We try our best, we work hard, we give our best at something and we never feel like we’ve got it. Icon writing, like life, is not about perfection but holy listening. Listening to the new life among us, the crinkle of the hay in the manger, the cattle yawning, the goats breathing, Mary’s exhausted sigh, Joseph's worry, are all the voice of Gods presence in this mystical night- giving light to our own place within the story. The manger is not perfect, its a mess. Icons are not perfect, they are a real. Our lives are not perfect, they are messy. God takes this manger, our icons, and our lives and shines his incredible light through them as a lamp for the world. Tonight the world changes because God has illumined the lanterns of our hearts to illumine our Icons of the Nativity in our deepest selves to illumine the world.
Illumin the world my friends with your life. Go from this place carrying the things you hear, see, sing, and receive and tell the world about it. Dare to climb into the manger and see yourself in it. Dare to know that Christ’s incarnation is because of our own incarnation. Dare to live a life full of love in a world full of hate. Dare to let the joy of this radiant night fall over you and enchant you. Dare to be fully present in a world full of wants, expectations, and stress. Dare to proclaim the birth of your king in the everyday of your life by listening to the quiet voice of God within your heart, who bids you come. Dare to be who you are and let the imperfect nature of your life shine through. Dare, dare like Mary and Joseph did all those years ago to let this story be a real story, because it is- its a story about you and me. The birth of Christ is not a silver star, static creche scene, or a meek and mild new mom. The Birth of Christ is a mess which calls us into a love so profound and deep that it changed the very world we live in. The world is changed because you are here tonight, and God is calling you to carry that Icon of Change into the world, which is so hungry to hear of what you see tonight. Christ is Born! How are you going to respond?