Christmas day

Christians, as the world knows, are very fond of arguing. And some of our arguments just look ridiculous to the outside world. Just at the moment, the thing that Christians seem to argue about more than anything is sexuality. And some people look at us and shake their heads in dismay.

But in different times Christians have argued about other things. In the Middle Ages Christians argued about whether or not Jesus ever laughed. Some Christians thought that laughter was just too frivolous and dangerous for the Son of God to have had anything to do with it. But that kind of thinking itself now seems laughable itself.

But do you know what Christians argued about in the second century?  You may find this hard to believe, but they argued about whether or not Jesus ever defecated…  about whether or not Jesus ever had a poo. And I suspect that some of you might be thinking that this is a very odd way to begin a Christmas sermon in a respectable church with ecumenical guests present too….

BUT – the whole point of Christmas, the real meaning of Christmas if you like, is that, in Jesus Christ, God was seen and known and touched in the living flesh of a human being. The whole point of what we are celebrating is that human life is worthy to carry the presence of the living God. That must mean that Jesus lived a fully human life, in every sense. He didn’t just ‘seem’ to be human. He wasn’t just ‘veiled in flesh’ – he was flesh. To be squeamish about defecation is to deny the doctrine of the incarnation. And perhaps, even more important, it is to deny the holiness, beauty and goodness of your own body and the bodies of all your fellow human beings. And it’s only when people deny the sacredness of human bodies that they make it possible for us to abuse and hurt and exploit other human beings. If it is true that God came to make holy all human flesh – then every single body is holy, and everything about our bodies, and all nationalities and kinds…

It’s fascinating that people seem to keep finding it hard to believe what the incarnation – the ‘in flesh’ ness of God  – really means. So, they say, ‘Well, yes Jesus was human, but he didn’t laugh…’ Or they say, ‘Well yes, Jesus had a human body, but he didn’t… you know… poo… ‘ . In one of the carols we sing they say that Jesus didn’t cry… no crying he makes…

The Church keeps on finding ways to minimise the impact of the incarnation of God in human flesh. They try to say either that he wasn’t fully human or that he wasn’t fully divine. For the second century Gnostic theologian Valentinius, Jesus “ate and drank but did not defecate”. But, the Gospel is only good news if Jesus did cry, did weep, did laugh and did everything else that is human and holy…

Now, I’m sure you’ve all seen lots of Christmas crib scenes. But if you’ve seen one from Catalonia, you might know that there’s something special about them. Because they always have, in a corner somewhere, a figure called a ‘caganer’. They put – inside the Christmas crib – a figurine of someone squatting with his trousers around his ankles – having a poo. This figure is there as a reminder of the profound theological revolution of the incarnation. You can make the doctrine of the incarnation sound posh and smart and holy and neat – or you can show it for it is – the good news that the profane has now become sacred, the human divine, the dirt clean.

I’m constantly struck that orthodox Christian faith turns out to be too radical for most of us most of the time. We are so tempted to put God back in heaven and to keep God out of our daily lives. But Christmas tells us that God is resolutely here, blessing the real stuff of human life and making it holy. God is with us – and with us as we really are – having left highest bliss for such a world as this… this world with all its mess and pain and trouble – this world, this life, these bodies… Christmas really is a materialist festival in the best sense – it celebrates that God becomes part of the material of this life.

I was recently at a meeting in Westminster Abbey and I had cause to visit the toilet in the vestry just by the famous Jerusalem chamber. It was one of those early Victorian flushing toilets made by one Thomas Crapper. It amused me, and I spent a moment reflecting on all the great and the good who might have been before me in that place. The Abbey that is at the centre of our nation’s life has a high and holy altar and some pretty venerable toilets. And the God we know in Jesus is truly with us in every place… and all is holy and all is blessed. Thanks be to God, Amen.