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That first Christmas God managed to take us all in. When God paid us a visit, we got the time wrong, the place wrong and the people wrong. The time was in the middle of a national referendum, so there was great disruption and confusion in Palestine. The place, Bethlehem, was such a backwater that no one in their right mind would have turned up there on census night. The people chosen to receive the visit of God himself were an unknown poor couple Mary and Joseph, and the first visitors were a group of filthy shepherds, the disreputable outsiders of their day. It was all most unfortunate and not at all the way things would be organised now. No media circus, no guard of honour, no phalanx of representatives from the establishment of the church and state.
No - God took everyone by surprise - He sneaked in by the back door, he avoided the corridors of power, he came without a fanfare and without a blaze of glory so it was in the first century A.D. and so it is today.
'We develop highly sophisticated religious systems, with complicated liturgies. All this we imagine will help people understand what it means to come into God's presence. And all the time we are playing these games, weaving these spells, God is actually saying to us: 'My main way of being with you is to enter the humblest life, to come alongside the people who have no theological training, to be with those who have no status, no prestige, no power. The most important place I can enter is not your cathedrals, or temples, not your holies of holies, but the makeshift home of the refugee family or the temporary home of the oppressed. And if I am to be born into this world again and again it will be in the lives of the quiet, waiting, loving, gentle, unpublicised people who still travel my world and long for my kingdom.'
God shocks us into realising that he comes amongst the poor, the humble, the unpretentious, the unselfish, the people who know their own weaknesses and their need of his love.
God comes again into his world in a very special way every Christmas day. He comes this year just as he did 2000 years ago among the poor and the humble, but he also comes in judgement. So every Christmas is in a way an anticipation of Jesus' final coming. And every Christmas you and I are judged by our ability to make him welcome. Every Christmas we are given a chance to transform our relationships with Christ and one another, and to open our hearts afresh to him.
God comes at Christmastime in three ways. God comes into the lives of the least of his people, the humble, the forgotten, the suffering, those who know their need of him. God comes into our hearts and lives, if we let him, and God comes to us in the great mystery of the Eucharist.
Have we the simple courage of Mary who said to God 'Be it unto me according to Thy will.' Or will we keep God at arm's length and hope he'll pick on someone else?
John the Baptist wrote from prison to Jesus and asked him: "Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for someone else?" The world asks the Church that question at Christmastime - Have you got an answer to the problems of life? Are we people who have something worth sharing - or should they look somewhere else?
If the world sees us at Christmas, trying to be humble, open and alive to the living presence of God in our lives and other peoples, then they may come and want to find out more. If we respond to need when we see it in our neighbours, or show kindness to strangers, then who knows we may be serving Christ himself. If ye do it to the least of my brothers and sisters ye do it unto me.
What is certain is that when God comes he comes unexpectedly, quietly, suddenly because he is the God of surprises, just as he came in such an unexpected and unlikely way 2000 years ago. God enters our world inconspicuously and we are told that his second coming will be just as unpredictable.
We pray that we may be ready to greet Christ at his coming - whether that is in the guise of a stranger, neighbour or friend in need, outcast or refugee, baby in the manger or the bread and wine of Communion. The word became flesh and lived, live among us. Do we recognise Him today as he knocks on the door of our hearts. Amen.