Christmas Day 2019.
Making Space for Christ.
Pressing along Piccadilly just before Christmas was a trial. The whole world and his wife seemed to be there, gazing into expensive shop windows, enjoying the lights, bruising every passer-by with shopping and all of this in a febrile atmosphere with an election in the air!
We turned right through an archway into a quieter courtyard away from the crowds, past the serious doorways of academic institutions. The atmosphere here was less oppressive. As we move deeper into the courtyard – did our eyes deceive us? – we almost stumbled across a small baby lying on the paving stones as if abandoned.
Even in today’s atmosphere of ‘accustomed shock’ this baby’s presence was an affront to our senses. It was out of place; it can’t be true!
Well it was true! This 6 day old baby, cast in iron, is the first feature in Antony Gormley’s major London exhibition which has just finished at The Royal Academy. In the exhibition Gormley wants to explore the body as a place. He calls it “a vessel for feeling” – and gives us an opportunity to explore our bodies in relation to spaces as we move around the exhibition. Not only do we have to stoop to study this iron bundle of a baby on the pavement but inside the building its biggest rooms are full of metal in a variety of shapes, some of which we have to squeeze past or clamber through in order to continue our journey.
Not every room challenges us in the same way. Some shapes leave us quite unmoved. They are full of mystery. But at the end of the tour, gasping for coffee in the restaurant, we are left quite exhausted by the constant challenge of sharing this space, my space, with something else, great or small. Gormley’s aim is to make us more spatially aware and I have to say, it worked for me.
And so tonight/today we come to consider again the impact of a forlorn birth in less than perfect circumstances over 2000 years ago.
Any new-born baby turns heads and turns domestic life upside down, even for Alpha-males! Any form of new life is something of a revolution but this birth, in this stable is charged with godliness.
That challenging reading from the beginning of St. John’s Gospel will help us make sense of this mystery. This particular baby reaches back to the beginning of time; he is a catalyst of creation; he brings God’s creative Word into our world where it continues to speak. Furthermore, this small scrap of life is the key to the unique value of creation. The world is given to us by God himself that we might take care of it. But we don’t; we treat it as our own but we cannot continue in that way. With floods in the north and fires in the south, even the presidents of America and Australia will notice sometime soon that something is wrong.
Now I am an aggressive driver. You have to be in a Smart car! But that gap in front is not automatically mine. I need to learn that. It is remarkable that there are so few crashes on our crowded planet with so many living objects vying for space. On this day, it seems that God too is almost squeezed out, finding the meanest space in a stable to make a statement.
And that statement is addressed to you and me. It is our final warning. Sharing our lives with others but also with God is a necessity for the quality of life which we all desire, even the asylum seeker. They live in tents along the French coast yet they build their sacred spaces to worship God as best they can. If we were to give God more space and time in our crowded lives it would put the whole created order – His order – into a clearer focus.
In conclusion, let us return to that small sculpture in the courtyard which invites our attention, even devotion. It is modelled on Gormley’s 6 day old daughter. He says this:
“This tiny bit of matter in human form attempts to make us
aware of our precarious position in relation to our planetary future.
It is the gesture of a body closed in on itself, needy of comfort, shelter,
sustenance and peace.”
We have the time, the ability, the resources and even the motivation to give God more space in our lives to do his work. For these gifts, thanks be to God. Amen.