I was a bit startled to discover the other day that about 40% of people in England do not think Jesus is a real person. The problem is, of course, that some of the things we say about Jesus, especially about his birth, are not about the real Jesus of history, but ideas about the birth made up by later generations. We all love seeing little children in Nativity Plays in which Mary arrives on a dear little donkey, after seeing a white fluttering angel, and then they sing Away in a Manger in which the baby Jesus, unlike all other babies, doesn’t cry ; but I am sorry to have to tell you that none of these things are actually part of the real story.
I have to inform you therefore that Baby Jesus almost certainly cried and had to have his nappy changed, although I do not know what kind of nappies they used in the 1st Century. I am happy to admit that an angel came to Mary, but the Bible makes it quite clear that most angels do not dress in fluffy white gowns and have wings; for people who see angels in the Bible either mistake them for ordinary people like you and me, or are so overwhelmed, as the shepherds were, that all they see is glory and light.
As for that little donkey in the dusty road! Well, Joseph might have been able to afford a donkey, but there is no evidence there was one, because people in those days, even very pregnant women, were quite used to walking long distances to get to where they wanted to go. We only have to look at those poor refugees flooding into Europe at the moment to see the truth of this.
Why am I going on about this, and perhaps spoiling the story for you? Well the answer is that since Christmas is about God choosing to come close to us, choosing to becoming one of us; then Mary has to be like those refugees, women on the road at the moment, and Jesus must be a real baby who might have died, like some of these babies have, because he was born in rough conditions with no home comforts.
The real story of Jesus is not some phantasy dreamt up by Disney with pretty music in the background. The real story is like the birth of so many babies in the world today, a tough situation where many do not survive, made worse by cruel people who will kill women and children if they think it necessary, just as Herod’s soldiers did.
The birth of Jesus is a miracle because it is real. This child did survive to become a man, and that man, that real man, changed the world. For his followers, that is us the Church of the apostles, died for the truth about Jesus that they proclaimed; and in doing so gradually, very gradually, brought more and more people to acknowledge, that his message of love in the midst of suffering and death is more powerful than all the killing that we humans can inflict on one another. This is the real Jesus that we follow, the real Jesus whose birth we celebrate at this time; and oh how much our poor sad suffering world needs to hear this message at the moment.
The Gospel for Christmas Night has the shepherds terrified by the “glory” that “shone around them”; and the Gospel for Christmas Day tells us that Jesus is “a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower”. Of course we all know that this doesn’t mean that that Baby Jesus had light and glory shining out of him. Only a very few would have realised that this very ordinary baby would bring the light of love and kindness lived out by ordinary men and women into this sad dark world. So let’s do our best to share that light, and so make the real Jesus, born 2000 years ago, a living reality for those around us this Christmas. It is a hard job to bring his love to the world, and we too may have to sacrifice much as he did, for that love ; but tonight/today that is what we are here for. We call on him now to help us live his message out every day, for it is only with his power and his glory, that we will be able to bring a little of his glorious but gentle light into a dark world.