CHRISTMAS DAY 2014

A few weeks ago, as you know, Jonathan Corrie was found dead in a Dublin doorway, and Archbishop Michael was very put out.  I think he felt that both he and our church were inadequate in our response to the growing problem of homelessness.

Priests and politicians very often share a particular trait: the desire to be a saviour; to be the one who can find the house or the room or the job for the client, to be the one who can wave the magic wand and make it all better. It is, of course, a fairly common trait, and when used to serve the common welfare rather than for self-glorification it is a good thing.

But when you set out to save the world, you soon come face to face with inadequacy. How hard it is to help! Our resources are limited, our power is fettered, our insight is partial. And if we had resources and power and insight in abundance we would still find how difficult it is. When Jesus said that the poor are always with us, he said a mouthful. For “poor” read also war, ignorance, disease, sorrow; and any other misery that afflicts the human race. They are perennial; and we are inadequate.

In St Luke’s nativity story, the angel tells the shepherds that he has good news for them: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, and this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger”. He doesn’t say, this child will grow up to be a saviour, but – this child is, here and now, the Saviour. What could be more unlikely – nothing so helpless and dependent as a newborn child, who cannot save himself let alone others.

God wants us to ponder inadequacy, as we contemplate the infant Saviour. We dare not despise this God in his manger. And we should not despise our own inadequacy; for, as St Paul wrote, God chose the little things and the weak and foolish things and the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are. It is in the little things and through the humble things that God saves. Every kind word, each generous deed, those little acts of loving – in God’s hands they become more adequate than we can imagine.

I was speaking to an old lady this week who told me she was going to spend Christmas Day at her son’s house. She was looking forward to having her family round her, but she regretted they were not likely to go to church. “They won’t be at the Lord’s Table,” she said.

Being at the Lord’s Table is the climax of our Christmas service. It’s not quite like our dining table at home; no crackers, for one thing. No turkey, or sprouts, or pudding; a morsel of bread and a sip of wine. Rather inadequate, don’t you think? But offered in faith, received with thanks, and shared with love – these inadequate things become the means whereby we kneel at the Saviour’s throne, and our inadequacy becomes the means of God’s saving presence to others.

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