Well who would have thought that Rage Against the Machine would have the Christmas number one, especially as for the last few years at least, the winner of the X-Factor has been pretty much guaranteed the number one slot.
‘Killing in the Name’ could not be a more unlikey choice for the top slot this or any other Christmas... not a saccharine syrupy lyric in sight, a great guitar riff, and very very political (and fairly colourful) lyrics. It is a heartfelt cry for justice. The song is about the then campaign against corruption in the US police forces, trying to expose and remove officers who were also members of the Ku Klux Klan, and American society’s unwillingness to act against this clear abuse of power.
‘’Killing in the Name’ is a cry for justice that is echoed down the corridors of history: in the recent Climate Change protests, the ‘Stand Up’ anti-poverty campaign, the Make Poverty History and Jubilee 2000 campaigns, Band Aid, CND, the Suffragettes the anti-slavery movement, and so on... Things just should not be like this. We know they shouldn’t. God knows they shouldn’t... and yet they continue to be so, we continue to be so...
In a year of the failed Copenhagen summit, global recession, mass unemployment, flooding nationally and internationally, banking crises, and more fighting and dying in Afghanistan it is no wonder that we might think that God had gone on an extended holiday and left us to our own devices and our self-made mess... In that context ‘Killing in the Name’ seems a most appropriate anthem this Christmas.
We so easily approach the events that we recall tonight as though they were a scene from many of the Christmas cards that we have received or sent. The Holy Family surrounded by animals, shepherds, maybe an angel or wise man or two all enveloped in the divine light of God. A soft focus Nativity, and yet our first reading tonight could not be a more sharper contrast.
The prophet Isaiah speaks to Jerusalem has been ransacked and laid waste. It has been waiting for it’s day of liberation. Those who guard the city’s shattered buildings and nearly empty streets are scanning the horizon. They have to be especially wary as the Babylonians have undermined the city’s walls leaving the it defenseless. Suddenly, off to the east, they spot someone on the crest of the Mount of Olives. They can barely make out the person’s faint cries. As he makes his way down the mount they hear, “Your God is King!” The messenger is from Babylon and has made the 500 mile trip across the desert to bring this hopeful news to Jerusalem. God is returning to making the city holy by His divine presence.
We gather again tonight, looking out for hope and life too, for many of us feel hopeless. Yet over the brow of the year comes the Christmas story... and our hearts sink. The soft focus, saccharine stories of the God who fails to make a difference... And yet, have we really heard the Christmas story at all? Strain with me to hear again what St John says. The Word, who pre-existed with God, has brought all that is into existence. The life that he lives is like a beacon of light to people - a blinding light that cannot be extinguished. He lived that Divine light and life amongst us, but we did not see him or recognise him, but those who do are offered the life of God, life with God. Who or what is this Word? He is the one who speaks of, acts out and lives the very life of God Himself... Not a mention of global recession or unemployment, Afghanistan or climate change, but there is talk about light, life and an over-riding sense of hope...
If you came tonight to coo over a baby, born in conditions that the Social Services would have a fit about, but to go ‘ahhh’ at the Christmas story nonetheless, then you will find that child on the front of many a card at home. Through the child born in the manger in Bethlehem, tonight God speaks to us His Word, He blinds us with the light of justice and He deafens us with His protest song of hope.
Friends I am not naive enough to realise that this sounds all too utopian, a Christmas sticking plaster over the gaping wound of my life or our lives together - yet tonight I am reminded in the midst of political, financial and environmental turmoil this baby is born. The Word made flesh. God himself amongst us, returning to make the city, this village, our workplaces, our families, our lives, holy by His divine presence.
A colleague of mine was once describing the beauty of the world to some children, when one child popped up with, ‘He could not have done it without the council,’ meaning the workers of which his Dad was one. The child knew that without us, God will not, without God we cannot. Or to put it another way, ‘Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, if he is not born in you, you a still forlorn. Want a better life? A better year? Some good old fashioned hope? It begins at the manger. But we have got to accept what He offers. This baby comes to make us holy, to forge a friendship between us and God, to offer us light, hope and life, to transform our lives and together, our world. Amen