We often expect to see some good films over the Christmas period. I find that a really good film has deep, almost hidden religious themes, and these are enlightening. Maybe not all film directors realize this. Something new about faith can be learnt from a good movie. This was in my mind yesterday. Lynne and I had decided to go and see Paddington. It has had great reviews. I thought there could well be something I could learn before preparing my sermon for this morning.
Did I learn anything from a film made from a story about a cuddly bear? Yes. I learnt that before going to see a film I should make enquiries about whether the film has Greek sub-titles or whether it has been dubbed into Greek! I’m afraid we had to leave after the first five minutes, feeling rather deflated and disappointed.
However we have another story to focus on, which does not disappoint no matter what language it is in.
We are still at the manger, where God’s act of salvation has been going on. In his love for us the divine has become human in an ultimate surrendering of self into the fragility and vulnerability of a baby. We tend to think that it is on the cross that God spills out his love for us and a great act of sacrifice, but we would be wise to remember that in the birth of the Messiah, there is as big a sacrifice as there is on Good Friday.
I was reminded of this in a strange and startling way the other day standing on the platform of Monastiraki station. ‘Mind the gap’ it says on the platform edge, but in Greek it says ‘prosochi sto keno’ or ‘beware of the empty’. This brought back to me the passage in Philippians where we read of God emptying himself in Christ and Christ taking the form of a servant and being obedient, even to death on a cross.
In love God has sacrificed himself for us and lies in flesh and blood in a manger in Bethlehem. It is a remarkable phenomenon, in fact quite shocking when you think of it. God pours out from himself into Creation, God pours out from himself in the Christ, God pours out from himself on the Cross. And lastly, God pours out from himself in you and me. Creation, Christ, Cross, Christians.
And as always with these great world shattering, history changing events, it is the most unlikely who bear witness to its unfolding. God in Christ lying in the manger is witnessed by the shepherds. We are told by St. Luke that the shepherds glorified and praised God for what they had seen. We are told that all who heard the shepherd’s story were amazed by what they had heard from them as they witnessed to others the good news of salvation. God in Christ lying in the manger is witnessed, of course by Joseph and by Mary. We are told that Mary treasured and pondered.
Glorifying, praising, treasuring, pondering. All of these guide us to our own responses to the Christmas event of the Birth of Jesus. Our responses should be as fresh and vivid and alive as were the responses of the eye witnesses. We are the unlikely witnesses now.
So as we continue in our Christmas celebrations, with the vasilopitta and the presents, and the feasting on St. Basil’s day, lets remind ourselves at the very heart of it all is this – ‘mind the gap’, remember the emptying of God’s love in Jesus in a crib in Bethlehem.