The Fourth Sunday of Advent

I took some reading with me to Australia. I figured I’d be travelling quite a bit and catching up on a book or a magazine would be good to do. I came across the following – a segment of ‘A Christmas Sermon’ by Phillips Brooks in a book published in 1890. Bishop Brooks is more well known, I think, as the author of ‘O little town of Bethlehem’.

Here we are, all wrapped up in our cares and pleasures, some of us committed to sorts of life and ways of thinking which would seem to leave no place for any such events as those of Christmas Day. Why is it that those events hold the world, hold all of us, and will not let us go? A thousand pretty pictures die and are forgotten; a thousand legends are dissected into their historic elements and laid away, dry and dead, labelled and catalogued, among the curiosities of the mythseeker and the antiquarian. But this record remains the possession of the deepest faith and the most earnest thought of man. The shepherd part of us, the simple soul of our race, repeats it to the intellect, and the intellect receives it and wonders what it means, but wonders with a sure and certain sense that it means something, that in it there is some clue and key to the deepest desires and profoundest guesses of the heart and brain of man.

Here is the real phenomenon of Christianity. The record of Christ has held the world’s faith, because it answered the world’s soul. Remember, that does not abolish the necessity for the historic truth of the story of the Nativity. The world’s soul must not dream its dreams and then write its stories to match them. That is mere mythology, and sooner or later the historic sense of men finds that out, and sends the unbelieved story to dwell in the shadowy realm of parables and myths. But when the story is first true, the power of it and the permanency of it come with its acceptance by the human soul as the fulfilment of its wishes and the interpretation of its dreams. Without such acceptance, the proved truth of the story could never rescue it from death and burial among the exhausted facts of the history of humankind. (Cited in Forum Letter, December 2018)

The nativity and the account of the Incarnation fascinates people because if there is a God or gods, we do want to know about them. And whatever they are, they are somehow ‘more’ than us – usually more powerful, more wise, more ‘resourced’. However it is the story of the cross and the light of the empty tomb that allows us to see back to this manger event that Christianity declares that in Jesus God is with us as one of us – no special favours – and this God who would go to such lengths, who would do such things, is someone to whom people are drawn. Yes, there is mystery here – and it involves tough things – it’s not easy (just ask Mary and Joseph and look at what they went through!) – but even these tough times do not detract or outweigh the truth that this God is unlike any deity we humans can imagine! That is why Christmas is still celebrated – and will continue to be. GS