One of my favourite parts of Christmas at St James is the Crib. It looks rather grand from a distance lit up under the altar.
Traditionally on Christmas Day we invite the children to come up really close and we sing Away in a Manger. Up close you notice how broken our set is. The donkey has just one ear, the Wise Men have lost their fingers, the ram has his horn missing and the baby Jesus only has one foot.
Almost nothing is perfect.
But the children love it – their eyes tell you they know they are looking at something magical, holy, a real signpost of Christmas amongst us.
We have St Francis to thank for cribs in churches. His was the first.
Inspired by a recent trip to Bethlehem he wanted to recreate for people the poverty and hardship of that first Christmas – to counter materialism of his day and to deepen humility in the lives of the faithful – to inspire us all to find joy in the simple things of life.
So with real animals and a hand made manger – he set up the scene in a cave on a hillside – and celebrated the Christmas Mass there on the night of Christmas Eve. Just as we celebrate our mass around the crib tonight too.
Sadly you can’t gather around the crib in church this year – but some of you might be lucky enough to have your own crib scene at home – I encourage you to spend time with it today and think about what St Francis wanted to teach us through cribs. Some of you might not – and I wanted to see if we could invent a special lockdown crib – so I came up with this!!
Common in lots of houses at this time – approximately 44 million are sold every Christmas – I bring you – the Chocolate Orange – which is I dare to suggest, the new crib we need for lockdown…
(And not just because it is chocolate – although that certainly helps.)
Now – you maybe looking at my chocolate orange and thinking –well that is not much like a nativity?
But imagine the orange is Jesus and the box – which is rather fancy – is the house and home for the orange.
The box protects the orange, displays the orange, holds the orange for us all to admire from a distance.
The box is the glory of God in heaven.
We get to view the orange through a small window – we catch a glimpse of glory here and there – sometimes if you look at the box from the wrong angle it can seem that the orange is no longer there – that God has left us – but look again from another perspective and there it is again – beautiful through the window. However even when we know it is there – we can’t yet touch it yet.
For that the orange needs to leave the box.
Once it leaves the box the traditional thing is that by throwing it down hard it breaks – and it will need to be broken in order to share it – there is no other way – more about that on that at Easter…
But it is not just the box which needs to be removed – inside as we see is another rather splendid wrapping of gold and orange foil – as if the orange was dressed in the finest things.
And all this will have to be removed – just as Jesus had to lay his glory by.
Just as St Francis put his own wealth and privilege aside to serve.
Sometimes we need to remove the layers before getting closer to God – and letting God get closer to us – we meet a vulnerable God best when we are vulnerable ourselves.
For Christ could have come in great glory and great power but he chose vulnerability – to come as a baby born in a stable – to live a life of poverty in an occupied land – to offer himself entirely – with those words we hear at every communion – take eat – this is my body which is given for you. In vulnerability and offering we touch the divine.
And offering is key – (because I am going to tell you this from experience – keeping the whole orange to yourself just makes you feel sick!) – this orange is made for sharing – for offering to others. That is a large part of the joy.
And this Christmas we are given Christ – not just as a personal saviour for us alone and our own comfort and joy – but as the Saviour of the World. Which is why the last lesson from our chocolate orange is to remind us of the globe. Of Christmas being much bigger than just us and our experience – it’s about love coming down – and being stripped of all protection – so that we all might share of the very best gift ever given – Jesus himself – given for you, given for me, given for us all.