Many years ago in Finchley, north London there was a local Methodist Church which would offer various inspirational messages in illuminated lights to the passers-by on the main road. Their Christmas one, very appropriately, was the song of the angels: ‘Glory to God in the highest’.
Unfortunately some inclement weather or a simple technical failure put out one of the lights. Just as appropriately, however, it now read, ‘Glory to God in the high st’. An electrical fault, perhaps – but how wonderfully true it was. In fact, nothing could better sum up the deep meaning of Christmas than that splendidly distorted message.
Those same angels told the shepherds in the fields that the ‘sign’ to identify the special baby to be born that night in Bethlehem would be that they would find him ‘lying in a manger’. Well, ‘manger’ is a fancy word for a simple thing. The truth is that they would find the infant Son of God lying in a feeding trough.
At Bethlehem the Creator entered the Creation. ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ – and the ‘Word’, John’s Gospel tells us, ‘was God’. In Jesus the divine became human. ‘In him (Jesus) all the fullness of deity dwells bodily’, St Paul tells us (Colossians 2:9). ‘Hail the incarnate deity’, we sing – but it’s hard sometimes to recognise his identity in the bonny
baby in the traditional crib scene. It’s a pity that the Christmas story can so easily be sentimentalised, because in fact this was the most radical and revolutionary action of God since the creation itself. God, in Jesus his Son, actually came among us – not as a super-being, not even as a fully grown adult, but as a baby.
‘You will find the baby lying in a feeding trough.’ Exactly. Right where we are, in all the mess and muddle of ordinary life, in the fun and tears, in the feasting and the poverty, the glory of God was seen in a tiny scrap of human flesh. In that helpless baby God showed how far he was prepared to go to bring us back to himself. When God took flesh he did it properly. Glory to God in the high street!