25th DECEMBER 2017 – FAMILY CHRISTMAS SERMON
I love Christmas decorations. In fact I have a little bit of a problem. My problem is that each year I buy another set of Christmas lights. Well I say it’s my problem, but the truth is, the staff at Auckland airport did drop by earlier this week and asked me to turn some of the lights off. Apparently the vicarage was becoming too much of a distraction for aeroplanes passing overhead.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who enjoys Christmas lights. Who here is brave enough to admit liking as many lights as they can get. Well what about other decorations…who appreciates a real Christmas tree? Tinsel, who here is a fan of tinsel? Finally, I’m wondering how many of you have a nativity set at home?
A nativity scene is a collection of figures that tell the story of the birth of Jesus. They’ve been around for a long time, we know that St Francis popularised reproducing the Christmas story in this way almost a thousand years ago.
When I was growing up my parents owned a beautiful hand carved nativity set, with a little stable, Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Magi and Animals. But in my family there were some rules that had to be followed when putting up the nativity scene each year.
The first rule was that the baby Jesus was never allowed to be put into the manger until Christmas day. After all, that is the day we celebrate his birth. The problem with that was that the beautifully hand carved figure of the baby Jesus was very small, and was easy to lose. Fortunately our family developed a full proof method of keeping track of the baby Jesus. Each year when putting up the nativity set Jesus would be gathered up, and put into a sherry glass for safe keeping.
The other important tradition was for those who paid close attention to the story of the magi, the wise people who brought gifts to the baby Jesus. When we read the story in the bible closely we find that the magi did not actually arrive on Christmas day. They arrived sometime soon after the birth of Jesus. In church tradition we actually celebrate the arrival of these wise people on January the 6th every year.
Given that my parents knew this, we were never allowed to put the three figures carrying their gifts into the nativity scene until January the 6th. In fact we had to take the wise people and their camel to the other end of the house, and move them a tiny bit closer to the manger every day. This was to remind us all of the great journey they made, following the star to find the new born child. Now if you find that all a bit confusing, don’t worry, as a kid I was very confused about all that.
This year I decided that I wanted to get a new nativity set for my family, so we could start making some traditions of our own. I hunted around online and finally decided that given my daughters are still quite young, this would be the nativity set for us. Playmobil.
In fact, today we have placed this set up on the high altar so you can see it when you come up to communion. I think it’s pretty fun, and no, we haven’t put to the wise people and their gifts at the far end of the church. But, I don’t want to tell you about this particular nativity set today, I want to tell you about the one I didn’t buy.
This is called the Hipster Nativity Set. In it we can see a 100% organic cow, a shepherd staring at his cell phone, three magi on their Segway’s bearing gifts with the amazon logo. And in the centre, Mary holding her Turmeric latte up as Joseph takes a selfie of them with the new baby.
So, what do we make of this? Well, at first I thought it was a bit of a laugh. There is an irreverence that does appeal just a little bit. And after I laughed, I went back to looking for another nativity set, because I didn’t want to buy one that was making fun of the Christmas story. Yes it also making fun of hipsters … and well…you can come to your own conclusions about the rights and wrongs of that…
A few days later another thought came into my head. Just suppose that the hipster nativity set is not a joke. What if someone had actually put a lot of thought into it and was genuinely offering a version of the Christmas story that made sense to them? When I started thinking about it, I realised that what made me a little uncomfortable about this nativity set was that some of the figures in it are a bit like me. And some of them resemble people I’m friends with. In fact when I think of the days when my children were born, I can recall a number of selfies being taken.
Maybe the person who made this set was wanting to put themselves into the Christmas story by imaging what it would be like if Jesus was born here today, among people like us. And that isn’t actually a very strange thought, because despite the seemingly fantastic parts of the Christmas story, it was a very ordinary birth.
You don’t think so? Well let me ask all the parents here, did you have to pack up and go somewhere different and be among people you didn’t know very well on the day your child was born? Auckland hospital or Birthcare spring to mind. Did special people come from a distance bringing gifts wanting to meet your new child, even if that child was a bit of a surprise? We certainly had friends and family who travelled some distance to see us. And can you say for certain that you didn’t hear angels singing when your child was born, even if it was a feeling deep within your heart?
This is what the story of Christmas is telling us, that God chose to become part of this world in a very ordinary human way, among people just like us. Now the hipster nativity may not be for everyone, but it is a good reminder that the story of Christmas does belong to all of us. That it is ok to imagine what it would be like if Jesus was born into our lives, right here, right now. Because the truth is, there are lots of ways that love is born into our lives all the time. The challenge is to recognise it when it appears.
– Reverend Richard Bonifant