St Francis, Terriers - Christmas Day - (25.12.2016)

Tony Dickinson

What would the big news story have been in Bethlehem twenty centuries ago? Traffic chaos? Hotel over-crowding? The rights and wrongs of Governor Quirinius’s census? The likely economic effect of a new poll tax? The more nationalistic media would probably have blamed the Romans for everything and demanded that the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem take back control.

The one story that nobody would have covered: the birth of a child in a hotel outbuilding – except possibly as a stick with which to beat feckless Galileans travelling to Judaea as “health tourists”. And (unless it was a very slow news day) they wouldn’t have paid much attention to an group of over-excited shepherds telling all and sundry about their paranormal experiences and linking them with that unusual birth. Shepherds in first-century Palestine had about as high a reputation as travellers do today – or migrant workers from Eastern Europe.

God, you see, has the habit of slipping in unnoticed, in ordinary situations, among ordinary people. Some would say that God actually prefers the outsiders, the people on the edge, or at the bottom – the folk who are despised and distrusted.

That isn’t to say that God doesn’t have time for the rest of us. It’s just that people who have nothing are more likely to be open to God’s presence, because they aren’t distracted from reality by their position or their possessions. They have nothing to protect. They are what they are and God loves them – just as much as he loves us.

So this Christmas, as we unwrap our presents, let us not miss the real story in the midst of the tinsel and glitter – nor let it sink under the weight of grim news from around the world. In the birth of this child, God has slipped in among us, to share human life (our life), and human death, to challenge and to bless. This is the good news: Jesus is God with us. To him, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit…