Isaiah 7: 10-16 Psalm 80: 1-8 Romans 1: 1-7 Matthew 1: 18-end
Virgin births are complicated.
We know how babies are made; it requires a sperm and egg. So, for some, the idea that the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way…without sex but with a divine conception from the Holy Spirit…, this is where their encounter with Christianity ends. This is where they get off. This claim is too audacious, too crazy. It doesn’t make sense. And they’re right. You’re right. It doesn’t make sense. Babies aren’t made that way.
When I was about 3, my mum decided it was time my sister and I should learn these basic facts about life, so she bought an animated story book called ‘how a baby is made’. Not wanting to make too much of it, she casually sequestered it away on our bookcase, waiting for the time we might select *that* book for our bedtime story. So, imagine the scene…grandad comes over and offers to read to the cute little grandchildren sat on his knee. Little Gemma scurries off and selects a book. Ooh, a new book, let’s have this one! And grandad begins to read… ‘mummy and daddy love each other very much’… ‘sometimes, to show their love, they take their clothes off…’ and so it continued, resulting in the most toe curling experience grandad ever had. By age 3, I could tell you exactly how babies are made. And it wasn’t like this.
But, if we allow the unusual conception and remarkable pregnancy and birth to derail our faith journey; if we allow the questions and even the logic to distract us entirely, then we risk failing to encounter this wonderful truth: the son shall be named Emmanuel, which means God is with us.
God is with us.
And that is the beauty of the Christmas story, that is the outrageous claim of our faith – the fundamental truth – that God chose to leave heaven aside, put on flesh and come and be with us; no longer simply above us, but with us, alongside us, intimately connected with, and part of, humanity.
And what could be more intimate, more vulnerable, more ‘with’ than being right inside another human being, growing, moving, being nurtured and nourished, in the act of conception, pregnancy and childbirth. God was ‘with’ Mary. And Mary was with child, and that child was God.
Doesn’t that say something remarkable about the incarnation? That God’s intention was always to be with humanity – not doing things to us but actually being with us, in real intimacy, even depending upon us for God’s very birth.
And God didn’t just come to earth once, in that first nativity. Yes, God’s incarnation was absolutely sufficient for all time and eternity. That once was enough. But God keeps on incarnating, keeps being born, keeps showing up on earth, with all humanity – you’ll see the wonderful Meister Eckhart quote on page 10 in your service book, which explains it just perfectly, ‘we are all to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born’.
And that is the truth.
God is always needing to be born; every moment is a nativity; every moment is the incarnation. And God still relies on humankind for that birth.
Mary’s role was very clear – be a vessel, a carrier of the divine. Be the one to hold and nurture and intimately carry the Christ. And then, when the time came, when the world needed him most, present that Christ to the world – bring him forth and reveal him to others – bring his light to the places of darkness and then set him free, that his goodness might be free to grow and spread and multiply and be passed on exponentially. Mary’s job was to know her encounter with the divine, experience it in her very body and then share it with the world.
And Mary’s job is our job too.
We are also called and created to be vessels and carriers of the divine. We also need to hold and nurture and carry Christ and then take him to the darkest places of this world and share his light and life and love with others. Our role is to encounter the divine; not keep him to ourselves but share his goodness and joy with the world.
And that is why we meet together here, and keep on coming back to this place, over and over. In our gathering we see something of the Christ in one another, we have opportunities to encounter the Christ and know Emmanuel – that God is with us. And in the breaking of the bread; in the eating and the drinking, we get to carry the Christ, literally in our body – just as Mary did – and then we are sent from here to take the Christ into the world.
In that first Christmas, Mary became Theotokos – literally the God-bearer. Growing and carrying the Christ in her body must have assured her, beyond all doubt, that in this event God is with her, with us. In our own journey, and uniquely in this mass, we too become the carrier of the divine and have that same responsibility to make the world a different, better place – a place that is acutely aware that God is – as God always was – with us.
I will end with the beautiful words of a Roman catholic sister – Frances Croake Frank – who wrote the stunning words of the poem ‘Did the Woman Say’. She writes this…
Did the woman say
When she held him for the first time
in the dark dank of a stable,
After the pain and the bleeding and the crying,
“This is my body, this is my blood?”
So, as Mary encountered her Christ in that dark dank stable, may we encounter him here, in the faces and actions of one another and in the body and blood of the eucharist. May we, and in turn the world, be changed by our encounter. And may we always know that God is with us. Amen.