A short sermon for Christmas.
If you wish, it is still possible today to travel to Bethlehem and visit the place of Jesus’ birth. Rebuilt in the year 565, the Church of the Nativity is one of the oldest churches in continuous use. Inside is the tiny cave traditionally believed to be the stable where the Christ child was born.
But to reach it you have to go first through the entrance of the church. And what an unusual entrance it is! It is a small and simple door less than five feet in height. Apparently the original doorway was bricked up to force even the most important visitor to dismount from their horse as they entered the church. To visit the stable one must enter on foot and even then, one must stoop to enter.
This entrance, which is called the Door of Humility, points to an important spiritual truth. If we are to approach the Christ child, we too must come quietly and humbly, bending low and leaving our pride at the door.
But even more wonderfully than this, the Door of Humility is a symbol of the event at the heart of Christmas that we call the Incarnation. For at Christmas God himself had to bend low and become very small in order to enter our world. As Charles Wesley sang: “Our God, contracted to a span/ incomprehensibly made man.” God’s willingness to become small is beautifully expressed in a prayer from the Orthodox Church:
‘Blessed art thou, O Christmas Christ, that thy cradle was so low that shepherds, poorest and simplest of earthly folk, could yet kneel beside it and look level-eyed into the face of God.’
A God who condescends to become small enough that we might meet him face to face; this is a powerful and moving picture of divine grace. And it is a model for the way in which God continues to work in people’s lives, as George Stringer Rowe wrote in his Christmas hymn:
Blessed Saviour, Christ most holy,
in a manger thou didst rest;
Canst thou stoop again, yet lower
and abide within my breast?
The answer is surely ‘yes’; for as St John writes in the opening verses of his Gospel: “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” A verse echoed in the words of another familiar carol:
Where meek souls will receive him, still
the dear Christ enters in.
This is a message that people really need to hear today, as we celebrate Christmas 2011. Go to Oxford Street or the Westfield shopping centre and you will find people weighted down with bags and packages, rushing about to finish their Christmas shopping. Christmas has become so weighed down with trees and tinsel, cards and cake, toys and turkey that there is hardly room for the child in the cradle. The baggage people carry is a symbol of the busyness of our lives, the baggage of materialism and consumerism that prevent us from entering the stable and drawing close to the holy child. These too need to be left at the Door of Humility.
So I invite you to listen to the words of a meditation by Marjorie Proctor, which I find speaks to me. I hope you find the words meaningful too.
I came to the stable at Christmas. It was but a step. I stood there wondering what service I had to give. The Christ looked at me.
“Christmas is a time of receiving.” said he. “I have gifts to give you, but your hands are so full that you cannot carry them home.” I looked down at my hands. What he said was true; my hands were full, and I could hold nothing more. I had not known what a great load I was carrying.
“Lord”, I said, “What gifts are they? I thought to serve you, and not to receive gifts of you.”
“I have gifts to give you that you have never known before”, said he. I have this gift of peace, and this of rest, and this of a quiet mind.”
“Lord”, I said, “What can I do, to receive your gifts this Christmas?”
“Put down your load”, said he, “put it here, on the floor by the door post.” And as I looked, I saw the post formed a cross where it met the lintel of the door. I stooped to obey him. It was not easy to let go of the things I held in my hands; my fingers would scarcely loose their grip. There was a great heavy bundle of self-will there, and other things beside. Pride filled my hands, self-importance and busyness.
I laid them there with his hand on mine as I let them go, one by one, and heavily. But, as I laid them down, my hands felt all of a sudden light and warm. I knelt at the foot of the doorpost.
“Open your hands”, said he, and I laid them open in his. “Take”, he said, “and receive my Christmas gifts to you, my peace, my grace, my rest.” And he laid them in turn in my waiting hands.
I rose to my feet. My hands were so light, I felt that I carried nothing. They were so strong that I felt I could carry everything.
“Leave your old burden here,” said he, “for you will not need it any more.”
And I worshipped him, and went on my way singing.