Animal Spirits

3 minute read

Preached at the Union Chapel for the St Mary Magdalene Academy Christmas service, 2019

There is an old legend. It is the legend of the animals on Christmas Eve. The story goes that, as the church bells tolled midnight, as Christmas Day started, as the Christ-Child was born, every animal in every stable in all of England dropped silent. They fell to their knees. They worshipped the one who had been born in another stable, in another country, long, long ago. They remembered that most important event in the history of the universe.

It is a lovely tale. I rather suspect that, sadly, it may not be totally, 100% true.

Again, I’m not entirely sure that this lovely legend is what that song ‘Animal Spirits’ was all about. To be honest, I’m not certain. I’ve listened to the words several times. I’ve read the words several times. I still don’t know what it’s about. But maybe it is, really, deep down, about the animals kneeling in honour of the newborn Christ-Child.

The rather sweet image of the animals kneeling in the stable points to something bigger. A stable is a surprising place to find the most important event in the history of the universe. It’s a surprising place to find God.

A few moments ago, DA read the poem ‘Descent’ by Malcolm Guite. It begins:

They sought to soar into the skies
Those classic gods of high renown
For lofty pride aspires to rise
But you came down.

This is upside-down. The gods of the classical world, the Greek and Roman gods, were seen as powerful, high-above, proud, vain and far-off. For them, humans were toys or playthings. They didn’t care. And yet the God that Christians worship is the opposite. ‘Lofty pride aspires to rise.’ They were up in the clouds, on Mount Olympus. ‘But you came down.’

It’s easiest to think that gods are being powerful and strong beyond all imagining, far away, incomprehensible. And yet the mystery that Christianity proclaims is that the opposite is true. God, for our sake, became human in Jesus Christ. God became weak, powerless, so close to us. God became human, a powerless baby, and went on to live life as one of us, and to die as one of us. For our sake. For our sake and for the sake of all creation: not just we humans, but also the donkey and the sheep. The creator of all things became part of creation.

The Holy One became part of the world, so that the whole world might become holy.

When the Angel appeared to Mary, the world was upside down. When Jesus was born in the stable in Bethlehem, the world was upside down. A young woman, living in an unfashionable town in an out-of-the-way country, with no power, no wealth, no glory, became the dwelling-place of God, became the mother of God. A stable, a smelly, unpleasant place, with no plush furnishings, no nice wallpaper, was the place God was born.

This is the God that Christianity proclaims. God who is not far away, but close to us, who has become like us. Not in the clouds, disinterested and remote, but here, among us, one of us.

‘Tears and smiles like us he knew.’ ‘Pleased as man with man to dwell.’

This is what God did for us. This is how much God loves us. This is how much we matter to God. God loves us enough to put aside all majesty and power and authority and to become human for our sake and for the sake of all creation.

‘Once in our world, a Stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.’ That is the greatest, most wonderful joy of all.

They sought to soar into the skies
Those classic gods of high renown
For lofty pride aspires to rise
But you came down.

May the God of love bless us all, this Christmas and always. Amen.

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