This is a first for me, leading a carol service that properly features a crib.
It’s great to have a visual focus like a crib, at Christmas.
We can experience God in a different way when we really focus visually on something, rather than hearing words.
I invite you to look and really LOOK into the crib this evening, and see what it says to us about Christmas time.
The nativity is a hugely iconic image that still resonates today.
I’ve been thinking a bit about Christmas adverts this year – the Mulberry ad (high end handbags) from a few years back showed a young middle class couple sitting by the fireside as she gently unwraps a gift that he has given her.
She is so excited because it’s a very special gift, a gift she’s been longing for for a while.
It’s a Mulberry handbag – in soft red leather.
She praises the gift over and over and she thanks him, and it all feels reasonably normal (except I’m thinking that I could never afford a Mulberry handbag and even if I could I wouldn’t want one).
Then there’s a knock at the door – a couple of guys with a sheep come in and approach hesitatingly and kneel, and wonder at the gift of the bag.
Another knock on the door and three guys with paper hats come in, carrying wine and perfume, and look on in wonder at the bag.
After a moment the woman’s boyfriend (looking slightly uncomfortable) says “guys, it’s only a bag”.
Everyone looks puzzled, then they laugh and the music fades and pans to a bright light shining over their fireplace.
The ad works because it suggests that the bag is not a proper object of worship, but also subtly suggests that it could be.
When we look into the crib today we see what is often called “The Holy Family”.
I’ve always found that term slightly off putting!
I wonder how you view family at this time?
We’re acutely aware at Christmas that not having a family, or having fled from a dysfunctional one, is a main reason that many feel lonely and isolated at Christmas.
The Church family is an alternative and very effective and loving one (when it works) for those who do not have actual family.
For those of us lucky to spend time with family at this time, it can also be a source of stress (let’s be honest).
I don’t think the Holy Family was without it stresses.
In one sense, their stresses might sound quite familiar!
I wonder how many you identify with?
Firstly there was the gossip about how Mary got into that state in the first place.
And there was misunderstanding.
And there was marital tension around how to handle the situation.
Then they had to travel at a difficult and busy time of year, when everyone else was also travelling.
Their accommodation plans were thwarted and they had to think on their feet.
They had to deal with physical, emotional and spiritual pressures that were at times overwhelming.
Their new surroundings weren’t really all they had hoped for.
They would like to have remained at home in a place that was familiar.
The place wasn’t as clean as she would’ve liked it!
They had unexpected visitors.
Some of the visitors stayed longer than expected.
They were given things that weren’t on anybody’s list and that couldn’t be returned.
But also, for the Holy Family, there were unlooked for blessings:
I hope, by God’s grace, you can also identify with some of these:
Despite everything, they experienced the guidance of God.
Despite everything, they experienced the provision of God.
They were given one message loud and clear: “Do not be afraid”.
They found themselves right at the centre of God’s good purposes.
They discovered God was with them.
Their experience was a source of blessing for other people.
They were surrounded by joy.
God was glorified through their obedience.
When all was said and done, there was much to ponder and be grateful for in the stillness and quiet of one human heart.
May we all know God’s blessing in our holy families this Christmas.
And now a blessing for the crib.