Christmas Day Luke 2:1-20
One of the highlights of the Christmas season for me this year has been seeing the film Paddington 2.
I recognise that not all of you will have seen this – but can I recommend it, regardless of your age: see it on Netflix or I-Tunes if you have missed it.
There is something rather wonderful about a story of a small Peruvian bear who speaks English who comes to London and gets into all sorts of scrapes and mishaps largely because of his absolute insistence on seeing the good in everyone.
It tunes in deeply with us: there is a sense of rightness about Paddington’s attitude which resonates profoundly with us.
He is a hero despite his naivety because he tunes into that sense that we all have that this is the way the world should be: like a symphony, in which we catch a glimpse of a haunting melody, amid a cacophony of sound, which we know will be the dominant theme of the final movement….
In a way, the story of Paddington is resonant of that other story that we tell our children at this time of year: that of Father Christmas, harking back to the wonderful St Nicholas – the original Santa Claus, and his incredible generosity to the poor: He used to throw bags, or maybe stockings of gold, through the bedroom windows of the poor and as a result saved children from prostitution and slavery.
The world can be a dark and frightening place. A Shelter video or poster of a few years ago comes to mind: of a mother and child begging in the street. The child asks the mother ‘how will Santa find us now?’
And its not just the obvious suffering around us which makes us gloomy about the world: a middle aged West Indian waitress at the Peter Jones cafe said to Lucy and I the other day ‘isn’t everything terrible here in London, people behave so selfishly, it’s not the place that my parents came to from Jamaica…’
We seem to be getting worse about relating to each other, relying on law rather than the good manners and common courtesy of yesterday to govern our behaviour.
And as we get older we become more cautious about the motivations of other human beings as we experience being hurt, we easily become cynical
But I believe that we have hardwired in us at birth:
a yearning for goodness
a yearning for kindness
a yearning for justice
a yearning for truth
that is reflected in our Father Christmas story and which bubbles out in the popularity of a fictional work like Paddington 2.
And we see this yearning everywhere if we only care to open our eyes and look: From the earliest days children say ‘its not fair’. Well why should it be fair, if the atheists
like Richard Dawkins are right and the world is only about natural selection and survival of the fittest?
How do children instinctively know that anything should be fair?
But from the playground to the United Nations we assert that there is a moral law which crosses borders. A universal higher standard of right behaviour which applies to all humanity, regardless of the expressed political will of their peoples.
It was the recognition that there is such a moral law which applies to all humanity which enabled us to run the Nuremberg War Trials and condemn the Nazis and which allows us to try war criminals today.
The debate, of course, is around what that moral law is but no one says ‘there is no universal standard of right behaviour’; no one says ‘you are not bound by any limits of any kind and its OK for you to behave to me in any way you like’.
But whatever the debate about the content of that moral law every human society praises altruism: the selfless giving to others with no secondary motives or what the Bible calls agape love: self sacrificial love.
Why would such a motivation exist across humanity if survival of the fittest is the only principle of life?
Agape makes no sense at all if survival of the fittest is all there is…
CS Lewis writes in his book Mere Christianity: ‘If there was a controlling power outside the universe it could not show itself to us as one of the facts inside the universe, no more than the architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or fireplace in that house. The only way in which we could expect it to show itself would be inside ourselves as an influence or as a command trying to get us to behave in a certain way. And thats just what we do find inside ourselves. Surely this ought to arouse our suspicions…’
It was understanding the force of this logic, of this reasoning, which so stunned Francis Collins, the chief US scientist who mapped the human genome, he reveals in his book ‘The Language of God’ that he made the leap from agnosticism into faith
But how do we know the character of that Controlling Power from outside the universe?
How can we be sure of the tenets of that moral law which Lewis argues is placed in us by the Creator of it all?
Well we should look for the place where we see the greatest example of altruism; the greatest example of agape love in world history…
And we need look no further than by looking at the baby whose birth we celebrate today: Jesus of Nazareth.
That baby, who was born into the messiness of the real world, at a specific date in history, at a particular place in geography, into a country under occupation by a cruel empire.
Born into poverty and suffering and yet that baby whom we discover from St John is one of the three persons who make up that controlling power the Creator God, who made everything around us.
Who made you
And made me
That baby who, as an adult shows us what the Creator God is like. We are not left to guess what God is like or to speculate on his character (like the Ancient Greeks and Romans) from looking at events which unfold around us.
From looking at that baby, as the adult Jesus of Nazareth, we see how he relates to different sorts of people, we see how he responds to loyalty, betrayal or attack; we see what the Creator God cares about and through Jesus of Nazareth we get to know the character and heart of God.
And we see the ultimate example of self sacrificial love of altruism, of agape, in his death on the Cross for our sinfulness.
But we don’t just see what God is like.
That baby, as the adult Jesus of Nazareth, shows us how to be human. He shows us what we were intended to be like; what we could be like; what one day, by the gracious gift of God’s Holy Spirit, we shall be like.
That baby who,as the adult Jesus of Nazareth, shows us that, despite the circumstances of his birth; despite the cruel suffering around him and despite the Roman occupation,
shows us what goodness is
shows us what is right
shows us how to live
shows us how to flourish
as human beings
That baby who as the adult Jesus of Nazareth, despite everything, shows us that there is good at the origin and centre of the universe.
That our instinctive yearning for goodness, for agape love is right. And that the purpose of our life story is to find it…
To find him
And that despite the messiness and suffering of our lives: that the Father God
sees our suffering
sees what we do
sees our hearts
that the Father God will bring everything to a just and good conclusion: when those who have died In Him will be raised up as Jesus was and everything which has been lost will be restored…..