One of the main things the readings tell us is that we don’t have to be perfect before we can turn to God. One of the strangest beliefs that many people have today is that somehow we need to have a perfect situation before we can turn to God. That God is this almighty perfectionist who is so fragile that he can’t possibly handle coming into contact with my family problems and the massive pile of evil I’ve done. That God comes only for the three P’s: the pure, the perfect families, and the priests.
There are two problems with this idea. One is that it is from the Devil. The Devil, he hates your guts, and will say anything to make you as miserable as possible. This is not how God speaks to us: God, seeing our poverty, lifts us up. As he says to us in the first reading: when we turn to him, no longer are you to be called ‘Forsaken’, nor your land ‘Abandoned’. But he says to each of us today: but you shall be called ‘My Delight’ and your land ‘The Wedded’; for the Lord takes delight in you, and your land will have its wedding.
The other problem with the idea of the three ps is that there are no pure people. There are many who strive for it, but its always a fight. And there is no such thing as a perfect family: all families are broken ones. And as for a priests – while it’s true that my beard is close to perfect – and I’m humble enough to admit that – pretty much in everything else I remain a sinner, as my housemates will tell you. And its the same for all of us: we are all sinners, and all need help.
And that’s what we see in the Gospel of Christmas. Often we think about how beautiful and nice and cute the Christmas story is – except the reality of that is not like this at all. Think about it: Joseph’s family is far from a perfect family. He discovers his fiancee is pregnant. Worse, it’s not his. Then God asks him, a poor carpenter with no theology and no army, to care for the saviour of the world. How in blue blazes is he going to do that? Then, just when this is getting sorted out, and his wife is going to give birth, they have to travel. Embarrassingly he can’t even get his wife a hotel room – they have to go to the garage. And then is there any midwife around to help Mary? No: he has to help her give birth all by himself. Their situation is so bad he can’t even give his son a real bed – he has to give him a container to sleep in. And then, to top it all off, the government considers his son a terror suspect sends out the army to kill him, and so Joseph somehow has to do a Jason Bourne and escape from the soldiers trying to kill his son…
Do you see what I mean? Joseph’s family situation was never a perfect one: it was full of problems. That’s one thing this aspect of Christmas teaches us. That I shouldn’t wait for my life to be perfect before I go to God, before I go to confession: because it’ll never be perfect, and I end up spending my life without the light of life: without the baby Jesus.
Because the second thing we learn is this: what does Joseph do when faced with these difficulties? Does he run around and panic? Does he give up and say it’s too hard? Does he think that God hates him? What does Joseph do? Each time he humbly turns to God for help – and he humbly does whatever it is that God tells him. When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do. And what happens? The most marvellous thing in the world: he took his wife to his home … she gave birth to a son; and he named him Jesus. Joseph is able to live with God, and to give God to the world.
It is the same for us: if we turn to God, he won’t say no: he will love us and talk to us, and tell us what to do to be happy, and to make others happy. That’s all the commandments are. The secret to happiness. So let us take time in this Eucharist to renounce all our sins, and make space for the baby Jesus who comes to us tonight in the form of baby bread: the Eucharist.