Beauty and Brokenness - A Christmas sermon
preached by Rev. Christopher Harrison
Christopher Harrison home page
The parish of All Saints, St Mary and St Peter, Nottingham
She paused and looked down adoringly at him; her son, her precious one. His eyes sparkled momentarily in response to her loving gaze. He was so vulnerable, her child, so dependent. What would the future hold? She didn’t know – except that it was bound to be hard. He needed her – but she also needed him, because in spite of his frailty he had given her a deep sense of fulfilment; motherhood, in spite of all the difficulties and uncertainties, had made her whole.
He was cold now. She bent down and pulled his clothing up more closely around his neck, to keep him warm. Again, that exchange of loving looks, mother-son, son-mother. She somehow knew, deep down, that everything would be alright. He’d been in a wheelchair now for 28 years, her son; but today her frustration and weariness had disappeared, and her love flowed towards him, abundant and free.
You're probably thinking that I've been describing the familiar nativity scene, with Mary looking down upon the baby Jesus. But in fact the scene is very different. Some months ago I was in the car coming out of Derby; I was moving quite slowly, as the traffic was heavy; and I saw for just a few seconds a woman in late middle age, with a young man in a wheelchair. He seemed to have Downs Syndrome or something similar. It was cold and windy; she had just stopped, and was pulling his anorak higher up and tighter around his shoulders and neck. As she did this, his eyes lit up and radiated happiness towards the person whom I assume was his mother – and she gave him the closest thing to a cuddle that she could, in the circumstances. There seemed something so deeply and mutually loving about that moment which came and went so quickly. It was like finding a page of a book that’s been separated from the rest of the volume – but which is so full of meaning that you can’t help wondering how the story began and how it will end. You know how hard it is to bring up a child with special needs - but the message contained in the exchange of looks between those two was that the love between mother and child remained supreme, and was not going to be defeated.
The message of Jesus’ birth, though, which we celebrate today, is that in spite of all that has gone wrong with the world – the wars, the poverty, the greed and violence – the love of God for humanity still remains supreme – so supreme that God should send his only son so that all those who believe in him and follow in his ways should have eternal life, as Jesus says in the Gospel of St John. Just as Jesus’ mother kept loving him in spite of all the sorrow and sadness which she had to endure as people became more and more hostile to him, and finally killed him – so too God never ceases to love his Creation, however far we stray from him.
But also - by coming to earth and living as a human being, Jesus – the Son of God - sanctified everyday life - the things we do every day – by making it possible for us to see something of God in the things that happen to us. For there can be something of God – of the divine – of the ultimate – in what on one level are the most ordinary of daily events; but which on another level are ways for us to grow in our understanding of God and his purposes for the world. The poet George Herbert put it in terms of looking for God – the divine – in all things; trying to see heaven in the world around us; and doing all things ‘for God’s sake’ – words which turn the base metal of daily life into the gold of life lived in accordance with God’s blueprint. I believe, for example, that there was something of the love of God in that brief glimpse of the love between a mother and her son in a wheelchair.
Now of course for most of us, most of the time, ordinary life just seems – well, ordinary – however many celebrities come from Parwich these days. But Jesus, by living as a member of the human race, showed that God takes our everyday lives seriously. He didn’t, and doesn’t, remain aloof from our everyday struggles and little achievements, from our hopes or from our sorrows. And indeed it is through these very things that God leads us closer to him, if we are willing to let him guide us and lead us. It is God who offers to take our hand through times of brokenness so that we can lead others who are broken. It is he who deepens our ability to love by giving us opportunities – whoever we are, and wherever we are – to love those around us.
There are many things which are worrying about the world today – the financial crisis, the recession, wars which linger on. But as we celebrate the coming to earth of the Son of God this Christmas time, let us not lose heart; look back in your lives at the moments when God seems to have spoken to you, showing you something of him through ordinary things as well as the precious moments; and maybe decide to be more open and receptive to those fleeting glimpses of God, and his love, in the world around us – which are there for us all to receive, if we but open our eyes to see them.