A Christmas Sermon

Christmas Day, based on Luke 2:1-15

Did anyone get to see the Fenwicks window this year? It’s a great Newcastle Christmas tradition, the Fenwicks window! Every year, they decorate their shop windows on Northumberland Street with some kind of story for Christmas, using sets and animatronic figures and music. They bring a little Christmas cheer to the passing shoppers, although it’s hard to get near enough to see sometimes. This year they have animated The Snowman story by Raymond Briggs, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its publication. Even the sad bit.
But closer to home, there are windows in our advent calender that need to be opened. We saw advent calendars on sale this year with twelve windows. Someone has dropped the ball somewhere, because there should be twenty-four windows in an advent calendar. Last time I looked, Advent started at the beginning of December. As children, we would fight over who would get to open each little window. One would reveal a tiny sheep; one an angel, or one of the gifts being brought by the wise men. And then, someone invented advent calendars with chocolate in them, rather than anything to do with Christmas. A really bad idea. Why? Now you have to buy a calender for each child, rather than one that can be shared by the whole family.
Windows have been special, long before Microsoft stole them for the name of a computer programme. Church and cathedral windows blaze out with colour as you make your way home from a carol service. If you go to Askrigg in Yorkshire, the villagers decorate the windows of their houses for Christmas, rather like an elaborate advent calendar. A new window is revealed each night throughout December. Lit from inside, these windows are works of art, with bright colours like stained glass windows, and Christmas scenes leading us on the journey towards Christmas morning.
One of the magical scenes in the film of The Snowman story is when the snowman and the little boy go walking in the air, flying over the snow-covered, night-time landscape. They peer in through lighted windows at the people inside enjoying their Christmas. Some happen to glance back out; and are enchanted.
Many people deck their houses with Christmas lights now, which invite us to look, and to be joyful. Windows are left uncurtained, so that you can see the lights of the Christmas tree in the window, or Christmas candles, or snowflakes and icicles. Such windows are immensely cheering on a cold winter’s night, when you are walking past with your shoulders hunched and your hood over your head against the cold.
In A Christmas Carol, the story by Charles Dickens, after the three ghosts and their visits, it is the view in through a window that finally melts the cold, cold heart of Ebeneezer Scrooge. Leaving his lonely hoards of money and piles of icy sovereigns, he makes his way to the lowly house of the Cratchit family. He peers in through their window. And he sees that what they lack in material possessions, they make up for, and more, with love. The window scene shows Scrooge that no-one in the whole world loves him.
Very often, in a proper, chocolate-free advent calendar, the final window that is opened on Christmas morning reveals the stable scene from the Christmas story. I was going to give a spoiler alert here, but if you have one, you’ll have opened it already, so you’ll be able to picture what I mean. Inside this final window, we see the crib, and Mary and Joseph and their infant son, attended by shepherds and angels and wise men from the east. It draws together into one scene all the elements of the Christmas story.
We peer in this morning at the Christmas scene through the window of our Christmas readings. What is it that we are seeing? Television offers us a window on the world around us. But too often, the scenes we see are of destruction, and violence, and suffering. The Hubble space telescope offers us a window on the universe. Looking at the pictures of galaxies and nebulae, we are overawed by the majesty of creation, and firmly reminded of our own insignificance against the vast scale of the stars.
But the Christmas readings offer us a window on a much humbler scene. They simply show God choosing to come amongst us. And in this window onto the birth of Jesus, he shows us, and offers us, what we all need far more than food or presents or possessions this Christmas time. In the birth of a baby, he shows us, not violence and suffering, not majesty and awe, but humility and love. We can just peer in at the window, detached and uninvolved. Or we can step inside to the warmth of the stable.

© Jon Russell 2018