When I was at Theological College I remember a visiting speaker asking us to share with the group where our home was. I naturally responded saying it was here at Queens – because for that 2 year period Queens was home…
But immediately I was asked – “no I mean where is your actual home…”, and I pushed back… “this is my actual home…”
Having moved around a lot as a child, and now training for itinerant ministry – despite the instability it offers, I’ve got quite used to home being a movable place – that where my family is is home.
The Nativity story is also one of changing home. Mary and Joseph leave their home town of Nazareth, and find a borrowed room in Bethlehem – and then they have tio move on again – and end up in Egypt.
An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
I wonder how Mary & Joseph felt at that time. They’d got earthly responsbility for God’s son – indeed to them Jesus was their son – and yet so much danger surrounds them.
This year I’ve come to question the line in Once in Royal David’s City ‘And through all His wondrous childhood’ (verse 3). Was Jesus childhood years, living as a refugee, an alien in a foreign land, wonderous? Is it wonderous to live in fear? To have to flee for your life?
Jesus experienced persecution from those who clung desperately to power from an early age. And so too, today, there are people in our world who spread hate against others – including for refugees – simply so that they can cling to their power.
May 2023 be a year when we turn hate into love and hostility into peace – and make room for refugees who from terror and devastation flee.
A Grandparent was staying with one of their children, who were having building work done on the house.
They when into a bedroom to find their grandchild jumping up and down in a playpen, crying, reaching up their arms longingly saying, saying “Out! Please! Out!”
But they knew that their grandchild had been put in the playpen to keep them safe while builders were moving equipment around in the house.
“I’m sorry my love, they said, you need to stay in.”
But the child kept crying. Their tears and outstretched arms reached deep into the grandparents heart. What could they do? The child needs to stay safe, but they were desperate to comfort them.
Finally – love found a way – the child couldn’t come out of the playpen – so they climbed in the play pen with them.
The Christmas story is one of a loving parent seeing those they love in need, and choosing to climb in with them.
God – chooses to become flesh – human, like us – and to be born as a vulnerable babe.
There was a time when God was seen as a more distant being, somewhat beyond our reach and understanding – and only interested in those who were descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That there wasn’t room for others.
But as God comes to live among us, God does the unthinkable, the unexpected, and shows that God is not above us or beyond us, or distant from us or even against us or only for a select few…
but shows God is with us and among us. And loves all of us.
For Mary and Joseph, when they arrived in Bethlehem the usual places of hospitality were full – there was no room. But Mary and Joseph found room – they had to – Mary was about to pop! They made room for a baby, for some shepherds – and we think there would have been some animals around too. And later in the story – at the other end of the scale – magi come along too.
A right mix of beings – who all found room to come and meet the babe – who was the Son of God. And now, 2000 years later, that opportunity continues.
There is room for you in God’s story – because God in interested in everyone. God welcomes everyone. God makes room for you, me, us and all.
The story is told of a school preparing for their Christmas play. One of the focuses of the play was to reflect the radiance of Jesus. An electric bulb was hidden in the manger and all the stage lights would go off, except the one in the manger.
On the day of the performance the moment came, the lights went out.. and so did the one in the manger. There was a period of silence when a little shepherd loudly whispered – “Hey, you’ve turned of Jesus!”
As we discover There is room in God’s heart for you, for me, for us, for all, we are offered an opportunity to respond – invited to make room in our hearts for God…
In the festivities of the season, Turkey shortages, Delayed Christmas deliveries, A new Christmas jumper, That one last person on the Christmas gift list you just don’t know what to buy for And working out who is going to have Aunty Marjorie for Christmas Day, Let us not turn off Jesus.
Let us not forget the reason for this season. Let us make room in our hearts and lives for the one who made room in the world to be with us, and say to us there is room for you, me, us and all.
This week is Palm Sunday, so named after the palm branches people picked up from the ground or cut from trees to wave and shout with triumph as Jesus’ rode on a donkey and entered the city of Jerusalem.
But this week my mind has been as much on the Christmas story as it has been on the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.
Why? Well, last Sunday was Census day here in England and Wales. And as I filled in my census, I was reminded that according to Luke’s gospel it was a census called by Emperor Augustus that led to Mary and Joseph taking a journey from Nazareth in the north, the Bethlehem in the south to register. (Luke 2)
There is no mention of a donkey in Luke’s gospel, but it is perhaps a faux-pas that is helpful for us today – linking these two journeys – Christmas and Palm Sunday – together for us.
You see, I was thinking about how the call for a census, in some way, can be seen as the people in power using that power to play God – by seeking to know who is who. For Joseph and Mary it was the first census, the first time people had been asked to ‘register’. By registering, the ruling powers now knew who was who, and perhaps even where they were – certainly, because the people had to go to their hometown, where they had come from was now known.
Living in 21st Century we’re quite used to other people having details about us. Type “Dan Balsdon” into a Google search and it will soon tell you much about me!
But up to this point in history to be known was not something that would be seen in the same way. You might be known by your local community, a few traders in other places perhaps, family if they lived elsewhere, and for the faithful – by God. The idea of being registered in a society or country was not normative.
The opening line of Psalm 139 hold much more significance when we recognise that to be known had a very different emphasis and meaning before that first census.
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139:1)
And so I wonder, given all of time and space, why God chose this moment, when a census was to be taken that would make the unknown known, that would change the societal and economic map, that would have an impact on the dynamics of power for the future, as the time for the Word to be made flesh and dwell amongst us. (John 1)
30 or so years on, Jesus journeys on a Donkey into the city of Jerusalem. Depending on which gospel account you read there are palms waved (though not in Luke’s account) and cloaks laid on the ground (but not in John’s account). And it is commonly titled something along the lines of Jesus’ Triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
But actually, it’s not the triumphal entry we might expect. The moment is once again a particular one, because as Jesus entered Jerusalem by the east gate, Pilate was entering by the west, in full military procession, with soldiers in armour and sword, probably horses and chariots.
Jesus’ entry is distinctive and different, almost to the point of comedy. Instead of swords there are tree branches. Instead of soldiers in clothed armour, people de-clothed and laid them down on the ground. Instead of horse and chariot, there are disorganised crowds and Jesus rides a donkey.
Jesus is playing with power by subverting expectations – saying ‘I’ll be king, I’ve be a Saviour, but not the king or Saviour anyone will expect – just you watch’.
Jesus had been challenging power in many ways for many months, and it finally comes to a head in Jerusalem, where Jesus is arrested, put on trial and crucified. But while Jesus can be said to be playing with power, he was not playing with God. Jesus was God.
For mere days later – what happens – well, spoiler alert – Jesus’ shows the true power of God – and is raised to life again. Much to the surprise of everyone!
While the sort of society we live in today is a far cry from that of Jesus day, Jesus’ call continues to us, to pick up our palms and challenge misuse of power, to challenge institutions and regimes that play God, and put our one true God who truly knows us for who we are, beautiful and wonderful beings made in God’s image, with capacity to love and do amazing things, at the centre of our very being.
So friends, what palm are you going to pick up and wave today?