Christmas Eve, December 24 2016
Genesis 18.1-21; Isaiah 9.2, 6-7; Luke 1.26-35, 38a; Luke 2.1-7; Matthew 2.1-12; John 1.1-14
Rev Páraic Réamonn, Church of Scotland
No wind at the window,
no knock on the door;
no light from the lampstand,
no foot on the floor;
no dream born of tiredness,
no ghost raised by fear:
just an angel and a woman
and a voice in her ear.
“It’s complicated.” This is what many people say on Facebook when they describe their relationship status.
In truth all our relationships are complicated, because we are complicated.
With God, it’s different.
God is not complicated. God has no moving parts. God is simple – so simple as to defy our human understanding. All the complications in our relationships with God come from our side.
We are divided from each other, we are divided within ourselves. And in this way we divide ourselves from a God who wants nothing more than to put an end to our divisions and to give us God’s peace.
There are moments in our lives when we want that too, but never always and everywhere, never in every time and place, never consistently, because we are always complicated.
The good news is that God loves us, but we find it hard to hear this news. God spends the whole of human history telling us that God loves us, but we stop our stupid ears. Absurdly, we reject God’s wise men and prophets and, with the full panoply of imperial power, crucify God’s Son. We find it hard to take God at God’s word.
In the story of Mary and the angel Gabriel, we find a young woman who does just that.
When another angel tells the aged Sarah that she will have a son, Sarah laughs with incredulity and promptly denies that she laughed. It is, says Ellen Frankel, not because Sarah doubts God’s capacity for miracles but because she doubts her own.
When the angel Gabriel tells the virgin Mary that she will have a son, she too has her questions. But she ends with a simple response: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Or, as the Scottish songwriter John Bell puts it succinctly, in the closing words of the carol (CH4 287) with which I began, “Tell God I say ‘Yes’.”
It’s a simple response to a simple message.
Our responses are always more complicated. When God comes calling, we say “Yes”, and “No”, or “Maybe”, or “Can you call back next week?”
If our love were but more simple,
we would take God at his word;
and our lives be filled with glory
from the glory of the Lord.
So says the English Catholic hymnwriter Frederick William Faber (CH4 187).
But our responses are always complicated because we are complicated, and too often we fail to rise to the occasion as Mary did, on the one occasion when it really counted.
On Christmas Eve, it doesn’t much matter whether we are Christians or Muslims or Jews, Israelis or Palestinians or Scots. We are all children of Abraham. Even if we are not, we are all children of God.
On this holy night, only two things matter.
First, that God loves us, simply and uncomplicatedly, just as we are, in all the mess and muddle of our human living, and shows us this love in the ridiculous form of a helpless child lying on a bed of straw.
And second, that what God wants from us, more than anything in the world, is that we should respond as Mary did, that we should respond to God’s love with as simple a “Yes” as we can muster.
For when we do that, God can work wonders with us. God can show us God’s capacity for miracles, in our divided world, in our divided lives, in our divided land.