Leading up to Christmas this year I’ve been inviting people to join in a family tradition from back when I was young. Unpacking the nativity scene. We used to have a nativity scene that was kept in a box with a blue lid and about the middle of December it would be found, unpacked and placed on the mantle piece in the lounge. During Christmas our attention would be drawn to many different things. The growing pile of presents that made wonderful sounds when you shock them, the bang of Christmas Crackers and those silly hats and the wonderful smells that came from the kitchen before the family meal. But the nativity scene drew us back to think again about Jesus and his birth. This year as we’ve unpacked the nativity scene it hasn’t just been taking figures out of polystyrene packaging but looking at each of the people that these figurines represent and what they have to say to us for our lives and faith today.
We looked at Joseph a man of righteousness and compassion and Mary, a woman of faith and courage. We saw these as the qualities God chose in the parents that nurtured his son and that men and women need to develop in there lives today. The shepherds and angels told us that the one born in the stable was Good News to be shared with great and small and the magi told us that this good news was for all people and that we should seek to know the truth in Jesus Christ. We looked at Herod and his storm troopers who are not in the nativity scene but who cast a shadow over this otherwise happy scene and we saw that in Jesus God came into the real world full of difficulties and strife and set up an alternative way of living ‘the kingdom of God’.
In a nativity scene you will notice that everyone one is looking towards a central spot and that is because the most important person in this scene is the child in the manger; Because Christmas is about Jesus.
Luke and Matthew in their gospels focus on the story of Jesus birth but John draws back and gives us a big cosmic picture. He looks back not 2000 years but into time before time when there was only God and he says that before the beginnings of anything there was the word and the word was with God and was God and that through this word God created everything that was made. When you feel that peace as you sit by a lake or find yourself awed by a mountain vista or the panorama of the night sky you are touching or being touched by the very unique breath print of God word. In Jesus this word became flesh.
Then John changes metaphors and talks about human being living in darkness and that God made a light to shine for them. We tend to think with our modern street lights and quarts halogen lamps we have banished the dark but there is still a darkness that dwells in the hearts of humanity and it was into this darkness that God chose to shine his light in the person of Jesus Christ.
Then John says that this light this word becoming flesh and dwelling amongst us. How more Kiwi can the bible get than to talk of the coming of God as a human being as God pitching his tent in our neighbourhood? In fact it my very cheesy joke that New Zealand is really into the Incarnation at Christmas we all jump into our cars and head off to our summer holidays at the beach, we literally become an in car nation.
And if you’ve ever spent your summers camping by the beach or in those temporary suburbs we call camp grounds you’ll now that when all that’s between you and your neighbours is a few feet and a bit of canvas that well you’re very much on display. John tells us that while no one has ever seen God face to face in Jesus Christ we beheld him full of glory and grace.
The idea of God being so vast and huge makes its hard for us to comprehend and harder still to think that God cares about us and could loves us. In fact when religions approach God is with the idea of awe and fear., or we try and have rules and regulations and rituals to make our deity approachable. We often view God like Michael Angelo does on the Sistine chapel ceiling. God distant reaching down from a cloud towards Adam and almost touching figure tips with him. But Christmas tells us that God is so much more approachable. That God draws even close, and we don't need our religion to bridge the gap, in Christ God became one of us.
When each of my four children were born the most amazing thing I remember was putting my finger on their hands and having them wrap their hand round it. They all had good grips. That is how close God chose to come to us, in such an intimate and profound touch. That’s how approachable God is. Those hands as Jesus grew would hold Mary’s hand for stability as he learned to walk and would learn skill with wood and tools as he worked alongside Joseph in the carpentry shop. Those Hands that would invite people to come and follow him and reach out to heal the sick, welcome children to him to be blessed, embrace the outcasts, gesture as he told us God’s word. They are also hands that human being would nail to a cross and would be folded over his dead body as it was buried. They are also Hands that would cook fish for disciples and be touched and checked out when he rose from the dead. The word became flesh and dwelt amongst us God is approachable.
This Christmas I hope that you might draw close and touch afresh our approachable God, who in Christ pitched his tent in our neighbourhood. Not just be reminded of him by a nativity scene or some other family ritual but that you might embrace him and place him at the centre of your life all year round. Christmas is time for family and as John reminds us, in Jesus, God approaches us and invites us into his family, he came to his own and to all who accepted him he gave the right to become the sons and daughter of the most-high God. And that knowing him afresh this Christmas you would allow him to use your hands your life to show his love to this world that God loves.