Just packed! That was the verdict on the Crib Service this year as we found we had almost 300 men women and children crammed into St Mary’s Easton for our annual Crib Service. It is a really amazing way to start Christmas for so many families and has been for so many years. But this year and last we have had the delight of LouLou Stirrup and Dan Day Robinson leading our Advent drama with the excellent acting talents of Millie, Antonia, Hugo and Raife taking the roles of the Angel, Mary, Joseph and the Shepherd, while Dan did the narrating and Loulou the direction. Thank you so much to all of them! Sensational!
The service opened to Helena Martin reading Luke 2:1-20 in the King James Version and reading it totally beautifully. Thank you Helena – brilliant! We sang carols as the advent story was unfolded by Dan and our actors. While we sung our carols various children brought up the nativity figures to the crib. This two was the final destination for our Posada figures who have been travelling around the parish in the last few weeks:
Thank you also to our organist John Dover our wonderful descant singing choir, to Chis Ellis our sound engineer and to our churchwardens Theo Mezger and Vanessa Rosewell and our verger Sara Janssen and so many others from Easton putting all the benches out and getting everything ready. Thank you also to the wonderful flower arrangers.
Alex gave the following talk:
There was nothing good about the situation, from Joseph’s perspective.He was being forced to move towns to be registered for a census, a new basis for taxation directed from Rome, the capital of the greatest empire Europe, indeed the world had ever known, by foreigners, strangers, whose soldiers were on the streets; hated gentiles with their different beliefs and uncouth ways…the cause of so much bitterness and hatred; so much conflict, to the mind and heart of a righteous Jew; so much to challenge his identity as a god fearer
And, worse than that, it wasn’t just strangers who were the problem for Joseph, he was being forced back to the land of his forefathers with his very young bride, already pregnant; and no he wasn’t the father. How humiliating in front of all his distant family!
Worse, they had both had to travel almost 100 miles to Bethlehem with the heavily pregnant Mary on a donkey in the bleakness of midwinter (a midwinter of the heart as much as an event of the seasons) and because everyone knew; everyone in the family; everyone in Bethlehem would have known too that they weren’t yet married and they could see that Mary was pregnant.
Perhaps that’s why there was no room at the inn.
It was the disgrace. So they end up in the stable; with the animals….
What possible future could there be for them with a new baby?
Maybe no-one would give Joseph work as a carpenter or as a builder, because of the disgrace…..
And then: He arrives; He is born: HOPE Arrives. As the family focus round the manger, as you see in the painting in your service sheet, Hope is born…
Look, any baby is a miracle and a source of great joy, but this one…
Ok, so none of the extended family of Joseph and Mary were there: no uncles, aunts or cousins, no tearful grandmothers, no emotional grandfathers, were there to support the new mother and welcome the new baby, but strangers to Joseph and Mary, other Jews who were slightly on the outside of society, shepherds came….telling with great excitement of something supernatural which had happened, a sky full of angels……..whaaat??
And, subsequently, the gentile Magi, the three kings arrive with their gifts
And then it all falls into place for Joseph: the prophesies in the Old Testament, the strange dream that he had of an angel telling him not to be afraid (always a sign of an angel) and not to reject Mary and in due course he gives the baby the name Jesus; a sure sign in that culture that he has adopted him as his own.
Jesus’ birth is not just a joy for his human family, not just the fulfilment of so many prophesies for his Jewish race, but joy and hope for the whole of mankind
Because this baby is none other than the Creator of the universe himself. And coming to earth as this little baby is the Creator’s plan to reconcile the whole of humanity to him, to remove the obstacle of sin and, through that reconciliation, to reconcile humanity to each other. What a precious hope…..even now….especially now after the conflict we have all faced in recent years.
This little baby as an adult, in the three years of his earthly ministry, described himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life, and he said ‘no-one comes to the Father except through me’. No-one can engage with God except through him…
Within 300 years of his birth, the whole Roman empire had become Christian. And now at 2.4 billion, more people are Christians than follow any other religion in the world. Christians know, and have known for 2000 years, that if they follow Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life; if they allow the Holy Spirit to guide them in their decisions, that they can come together even with strangers in peace: whatever their political opinions (whether they voted leave or remain); whatever their perceptions of identity; whatever their race; whatever their gender; whatever their class; they can come together to worship at the manger the Christ Child, as you all have come today.
Through that worship, despite the many conflicts and challenges between us, despite even the disagreements over Brexit that we have had in the past, because we worship him, we can, like him be hope, in the world.
2 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. 2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Beth-lehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. 8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,14 Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, Good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Beth-lehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Lk 2). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.