Jesus as man
Sermon for All Saints Christmas Eve Midnight Mass
- crucified between two criminals
- beaten and ridiculed by Roman soldiers
- having his last supper with his friends – a meal we’re re-enacting here tonight
- riding into Jerusalem on a donkey to shouts of Hosanna
- healing the sick
- walking from village to village and town to town to preach his good news
- baptized in the River Jordan
Then, continuing this retrospective of the life of Jesus:
- the baby honoured by wise men
- visited by shepherds
- being born in a stable-cave at Bethlehem
That’s what the New Testament tells us of Jesus, but it’s far from a complete biography. It’s missing something which I believe is extremely important: it’s missing the middle 30 years of his life.
In a way it’s those 30 years, between the baby and the wandering preacher and the man on the cross, which give his life its authenticity. I firmly believe that God was in Jesus living a totally human life – to share our life and to show us how to live. And it’s the way that the ordinariness of his life, God’s human life, matches the ordinariness of ours that’s so extraordinary and makes his entry into the human world at Bethlehem so utterly remarkable.
The circumstances surrounding that birth were very humble, lowly as the carols say. But maybe they weren’t all that much less privileged than in many a confinement at that time in that place. And Jesus grew as any child did, becoming an ordinary three-year-old, without doubt making mistakes as every three-year-old does, and learning from them. Then an ordinary thirteen-year-old, by that age beginning his working life as one of Nazareth’s carpenters. And an ordinary twenty-three-year-old, a skilled craftsman, supporting a family, that is, his widowed mother and his younger brothers and sisters. And ten years later at 33 he was executed, ironically following charges of blasphemy and insurrection. God charged with blasphemy and insurrection.
During the three years before that he’d been preaching and healing and training a band of men to share in and eventually to continue his work. But most of his life had been like the life of most of the people around him. He knew about ordinary life and could talk about it because that had been his own experience – with its routines, its daily tasks, its joys and good things, its disappointments and sad things. In fact, a life just like ours.
Some time ago I read something by a nineteenth century Russian novelist called Ivan Turgenev. He wrote of how he was at a candle lit service when a man came up and stood beside him. “I didn’t turn towards him,” he wrote, “but I felt that the man was Christ. Emotion, curiosity, awe overmastered me. I made an effort and looked at my neighbour. A face like everyone’s, a face like all men’s faces. ‘What sort of Christ is this?’ I thought. ‘Such an ordinary, ordinary man. It cannot be.’ Then suddenly I realized that just such a face is the face of Christ – a face like all men’s faces.”
Forty-odd years ago I was fortunate enough to visit the Holy Land, and one of my many memories is of the modern Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where there’s a series of large mosaic panels showing Mary and her child, and each donated by a different country. There were several from Europe showing a distinctively Western European Mary and Jesus, the sort of images we’re familiar with. But the one from Cameroon had a black Mary and a black Jesus, and in that from Japan the mother and child were unmistakably Japanese. In every panel the two of them had the facial characteristics of the inhabitants of the donating country, and it brought it home to me that wherever we are from, Jesus is one of us.
When we think of Jesus, let’s not just think of him as the baby in the manger, or the preacher, or the man on the cross, but also as a working man, responsible for a family, a man who knows all about everyday life because that’s what he lived himself.
Then let us remember too that this man was God. How that was possible we just do not know. That’s the miracle of Christmas – the wonder of it – God coming to live in a human life, in a baby.
And the miracle goes on. God in Jesus was born to share our ordinary life 2000 years ago in Bethlehem. Today he comes to be born again in us here in Coddington. Let us welcome him, and rejoice and be merry and give him great thanks and praise.