What does the birth of Jesus have to say to us? That was the basic question I was trying to answer in this Christmas eve sermon. I hope that it had something to say to people who only come to church once a year, as well as those who come every week. I mention quite a few news stories in the sermon, so I’ve linked to those.
A few months ago Danica May Camacho was born, weighing 5lb 5ozs. Danica was born in a crowded Philippine hospital at about midnight on 30th October this year. In one sense, Danica is just another baby, born into a world on the same day as many other babies, born into a world which is struggling to deal with its problems, and in many cases even struggling to agree to what the problems actually are.
What’s so special about Danica then? She was chosen by the UN to symbolise the growth of the world population to 7 billion. Danica was given a cake by UN officials, and a scholarship by well-wishers. But, already 12 year-old Adnan and 24 year-old Matej are complaining that, although they were the 6th billion and 5th billion child on the planet, the UN has not done anything else for them.
Danica’s birth was greeted with a mix of celebration, not least by her parents, and fear, fear of what her birth symbolised. Many articles were written about what it was going to be like, having 7 billion humans all alive on the same planet at the same time. What about the amount of food needed? The amount of resources? The impact on our already over-stretched ecosystem? The impact on our already over-stretched governments?
Danica is a unique human being, who I’m sure is loved by her parents, and is certainly capable of bringing much joy into the world. We don’t know whether she will be extraordinary, or lives a life much like those lives around her, going to school, getting married, having children. She will make an impact, for good or ill, on the lives of those around us, as we all do. But, we don’t yet know whether she will make the history books or not.
But, here we are gathered tonight to celebrate the birth of another child, one of only 200 million humans on the planet, born over 2,000 years ago. Here was a boy who was given the then-common name of Joshua. Joshua, Moses’ successor, who finally led his people into the promised land.
We heard the start of that story in our first reading, when Moses turns aside to encounter God, to discover God disguised in the seemingly ordinary. That encounter changed Moses’ life, and the life of his people. God, Moses was told had seen the affliction of his people, and knew their suffering. So, God was going to act, and was going to act through Moses, to bring his people to his promised land. And, years later, after many doubts and struggles and much suffering, Moses’ successor Joshua finally led God’s chosen people into God’s promised land.
So, many years later another child named Joshua was born, born to poor, struggling parents, into a land suffering the uncertainty and fear of occupation. Joshua, a common name, looking back to what had gone on in the past, and hoping that it would still happen in the present. But this Joshua, or, in Greek, Jesus, wasn’t just a symbol of forces and movements beyond any one person’s control, unlike Danica, symbol of the 7th billion human on this planet. No, the importance of Jesus is summed up in the other name that we heard him given in that first passage from Matthew, the name of Emmanuel, God with us.
But first, what will be the world in which Danica grows up in be like? Well, we know what she will see in the first few years of her life. She will live through, even if she doesn’t understand, a world that is struggling to come to terms with our debt and how much we consume. This year we have seen governments cut spending, raise taxes, and warn of much more to come, as we have seen our income shrink and prices rise. Many of us are struggling and most of us don’t know what, if anything, we can do about it.
As well as this, only this month leaders from 194 countries have been struggling to come to an agreement over the the extent of the measures needed to combat climate change. But, one thing is clear, the leaders from those 194 countries agree is that climate change is real, and is going to have a real and measurable effect on what our climate patterns are going to be like.
Earlier this year we saw riots erupt in our cities, people looting, causing widespread damage and destruction, and killing 5 people. Much work has been done of why people felt compelled to riot, and summarising that research, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, argued that these people were searching for security, belonging, and respect, and had instead encountered fear, indifference and a sense of being dispensable. A lack of hope, a worsening economy, and a society where you’re validated by what you own and can buy makes for an explosive mix, waiting for a spark.
Debt, climate change, riots. Symptoms of a society which is seeking security and putting hope in the wrong places. This is the sort of world which Danica has been born in. Not a lot changes though. Jesus was born into the mess of his time, with people desiring security and freedom, hope and a purpose. And, of course, largely seeking security and putting hope in the wrong places.
But, we don’t remember Jesus because he was yet another baby, born to yet another set of parents, somewhere round the world. We don’t remember him because he symbolised something, no matter how important. We remember Jesus, not because of Christmas, but because of Easter. We remember Jesus because of his death and new life, not because of his birth. We remember Jesus because of the hope that he brought for us, of the promises made that we’ve heard and sung again tonight. The promises that, despite the mess, there is a hope that we can reach out and hold onto, the life-changing hope of God’s kingdom, brought to us by Jesus, God with us.
In the story of Moses we heard that God had seen the affliction of his people, and knew their suffering. We heard that God was going to act, and was going to act through Moses. In the story of Jesus we hear that God has seen the afflication of his people, knows their suffering, and has acted, by coming himself, to be with us. To be with us, and so to give us that security and hope that Danica will all too soon realise that this world doesn’t give.
The name Danica means ‘the morning star’, the bringer of dawn. At the end of the last book of the Bible, Jesus describes himself as “the Root and Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” We have sung and celebrated the birth of Jesus, the Root and Offspring of David, because he is also the bright Morning Star, the bringer of the dawn of God’s light into our world and into our lives.
The world was a mess when Jesus was born. It was still a mess when Danica was born. But, the hope and promise of Jesus is that he is with us in our mess, in the mess of our world, in the mess which we created and allowed to happen. The promise of God is that he will help us, and that his kingdom is both here now, and is yet to fully come. That is why we can celebrate the birth of Jesus, God with us. Amen.