Christmas Day 2014
Robinson College Chapel
My son is a qualified football referee, and his first match as referee was spent overseeing boys three years older than him. But – these were teams comprised of boys with diagnosed disabilities – and my son thought he was in for an easy ride. It turns out their diagnosed learning disability, was anger management – and they were from a rehabilitation unit. He was 13, they were 16 … and they were angry. How on earth was that going to end?
At Christmas, we celebrate the coming of the Son of God – but this Jesus comes into a world of violence and injustice and empire, as a fragile, vulnerable bag of bones – really, what is he going to be able to do? He’s got no influence, no family, no wealth – he’s not from Rome or Jerusalem or Chelsea. He’s from Nazareth, the Ancient Near Eastern equivalent of Kings Lynn. What difference can this peasant builder from the provinces make to the reality of the world?
We might be forgiven for thinking, none – actually. Because throughout history people have projected their prejudices onto Jesus, assuming him to be on their side, like them, born in their image. This has been nicely exemplified by some southern Baptists I believe, who I believe have put together some stereotypes about people and about Jesus. The sheer political incorrectness of these examples means that only some of them are repeatable:
There are 3 good arguments that Jesus was a slave from Mississippi:
1. He called everyone "brother", 2. He liked Gospel 3. He couldn't get a fair trial.
3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Jewish:
1. He went into His Fathers business. 2. He lived at home until he was 33.
3. He was sure his Mother was a virgin and his mother thought he was God.
3 equally good arguments that Jesus was Italian:
1. He talked with his hands. 2. He had wine with every meal. 3. He used olive oil.
3 equally good arguments that Jesus was a Californian:
1. He never cut his hair. 2. He walked around barefoot all the time.
3. He started a new religion.
3 proofs that Jesus was a woman:
1. He fed a crowd at a moment's notice when there was no food. 2. He kept trying to get a message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it 3. And even when he was dead, He had to get up because there was more work to do.
Of course, Christian and atheist alike cannot help but project their prejudices, their assumptions and worldview and mindset upon this figure. But the point of worshipping this Jesus, is that he might actually reshape how we encounter him.
Despite his sheer vulnerability, his monstrous fragility, this child born in Bethlehem might just have the capacity to answer back. The challenge of Christmas is to give him a chance - and it's not much to ask. Listening, open-mindedness, curiosity, after all, are foundational rules for our culture.
Those angry teenagers on the football pitch - despite being rough - accepted the foundational rules of the game and conducted themselves well. They might say to us, "Go thou, and do likewise".