Christmas Eve Communion at 4pm with Rev Dr Phil Wall
This service is being live streamed
What’s the Christmas story got to say about…pandemics?
Well, with only one sleep ‘til the big day, so far my week has been busy and beautiful as I’ve shared communion and celebrated unions with church members, enjoyed my last running group session of the year, picked up some donations for the foodbank, ordered last minute presents, and was blown away by the monologues in Sunday morning’s Nativity service before soaking in the wonder of Christmas at Castle Square’s carols service in the afternoon.
Midst all this, my friends Sarah and Dan ventured across the border to visit and introduce me to their three-month-old daughter, Erin. And whilst the many Christmas services and celebrations might leave me feeling a little tired (and apparently looking it, with one of my friends describing me as ‘haggard’ on Sunday night!) I had nothing on Sarah and Dan who were juggling night feeds, day tantrums, and all the highs and lows of taking a firstborn on a long trip.
So they descended with nappies, wipes, multiple change of clothes, bottles, sterilizers and a whole car-load of goodies that little Erin may or may not have needed for her 2-night stay. It was like a (very joyful!) military operation!
Well, whilst the equipment they carry with them might have changed over the years, two thousand years ago, new parents would have shared much of the same exhaustion and anxieties when faced with a long journey. Let’s join one such couple now – a mother named Mary and adopted father called Joseph – as they rest from one journey and are beckoned on to another…
Reading: Matthew 2:13-23
As we all know by now, the version of the first Christmas and ensuing events that we find in The Bible certainly isn’t as comfy and cosey as most Christmas cards scenes would have us think.
The action takes place in a time of Government mandates and separated families; mistreated foreigners and lying leaders. Within this wider backdrop, we hear of a young family facing many uncertainties about their future and, more immediately, their housing. They’ve already had to go on one long, arduous journey up north and are resting and reflecting on the strange visitors who have queued up to see the newborn since his birth when Joseph presumably finishes off the festive cheeseboard and has one of his vivid dreams.
“Get up,” said the angel in the dream, “Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
What a dream for a new parent to have! I mean, like his Hebrew Testament namesake, he’s had some colourful dreams before but now he’s hearing that no sooner has this long-awaited and special child been born, his life is in danger and he and the family have to get moving again! I wonder how he felt about this because I think I might have been a little passive aggressive with the angel…
The angel: Erm…that’s the what The Boss has asked, yeah.
Joseph: And The Boss couldn’t have arranged things in a slightly easier way for this apparently special boy – y’know – with his omnipotence, omniscience and all?!
The Angel: Sorry mate…these are the instructions He gave me.
Joseph: Okay…okay…fine! I’ve got to believe He knows what He’s doing. So, I’ll obviously need a few days to settle our affairs, say goodbye to the family, sort out what we need and…
The Angel: Erm…sorry. This is awkward. You’ve kind of got to go tonight.
Joseph: Tonight?! But the boy’s only just got to sleep!
The Angel: Yeah. Erm…you sort of need to go right now. Like…immediately. Good luck!
Perhaps it went something like that. I think it would be pretty understandable if he did because, if I’m honest, I’m a little fed up with the instructions we’re being given right now. For, in March last year, just like Joseph, we received news which turned our world upside down and, to start with at least, it was difficult to know what to think. Then, like Joseph, we obeyed Government mandates and divine commands as we locked down, protected loved ones, and sacrificed much. It has been a long old journey for all of us since and just when it looked like we could have a rest and truly believe that life was returning to normal, we’re told that the journey is far from over – that, as Joseph was warned, lives are still at risk and we have to dust ourselves off, get ourselves up, and begin again. And, honestly, couldn’t The Boss have arranged things in a slightly easier way for us – y’know – with his omnipotence, omniscience and all?!
And yet…and yet…the story doesn’t end there as Joseph, Mary & Jesus do make it to Egypt and back again. Matthew tells us that when Herod died, Joseph, Mary and the Christ-child returned to Israel – to Nazareth in Galilee in fact, where life did return to normal for Joseph…for a while, a least. For Matthew has much more to tell us…of weird cousins and river-dunkings; feasts aplenty and grace abounding; of blessings from a hilltop and miracles by the sea; of rejoicing widows and returning sons; of forgiveness from a cross and hope on a beach.
We don’t quite know much Joseph got to experience of this, of course…nor do we know what lies ahead for us. For this pandemic may be far from over. We may well be called to journey into some dark and dangerous places as individuals, into some strange lands as the Church. We may be called into places where we might never come back, or at least come back the same. Alone this would be daunting. Even travelling with all of you, it can be scary. But, just like Joseph and Mary, we do not travel alone for we’ve been given the task to walk with Christ – to journey onward with the Emmanuel – the God-with-us – who provides nourishment for the journey and balm for the soul. To journey onward with the One who offers light in our darkness and hope for tomorrow. To journey onward with the God who reminds us that pandemics will pass, despots will fall, and throughout all, we are ever-held in God’s unfailing love.
‘Get up and journey onward for God is with you’, the angel said to Joseph.
‘Get up and journey onward for God is with you’, we hear again today.
By the grace of God, he did. By the grace of God, we will. Amen.