You might have noticed our notice board this last couple of weeks. It’s a big orange sign with the words “You Matter” on it.
It’s a sign that signals our support for Presbyterian Support; and particularly for Shine: making homes violence free in NZ.
But it’s also a great Christmas message: ‘You matter’.
Indeed, theologians for centuries, using all sorts of fancy words, have said that Christmas is God’s declaration that little defenceless babies, their mothers, and families, matter. Not just baby Jesus, but all babies. And not just Mary, but all women. And not just babies and women, but all human beings. Whether you are rich or poor, powerful or powerless, cuddly or prickly: you matter.
One of the most well-known Christmas Carols, Silent Night, which we sang this morning, also has this message. ‘Huh?’ you might say. ‘It seems to be just about baby Jesus sleeping, his mum watching on, and a host of angels singing (it’s a miracle he stayed asleep!). Where does the ‘you matter’ bit come in?’ Let me explain:
Once upon a time, nearly two a hundred years ago, there was an old village in the Austrian Alps Oberndorf bei Salzburg (about 17 km north of the City of Salzburg) where the local minister was Joseph Mohr, and the local school teacher was Xavier Gruber. Xavier also played the guitar and helped with music in the village church.
On December 24th 1818 Mohr sat in his study pondering the text for his Christmas sermon. It was ‘Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people. For this day is born to you a saviour.’
Just then, someone knocked at the door. He opened it to a peasant woman wrapped in a coarse shawl. She told him that earlier that day a child had been born to a poor charcoal maker’s family. Would the minister come and bless the infant that the child might live and prosper?
So off Joseph went with the peasant woman trudging through the knee-deep snow. At last they came to a ramshackle hut. A big awkward man greeted the minister and asked him to enter. The low room was filled with wood smoke and poorly lit, but on the crude bed lay the young mother giving a tired and contented smile. In her arms she held a baby, now peacefully asleep. Joseph said a prayer and blessing.
As Joseph made his way back down the mountain alone, he felt strangely moved. The smoky shack with its crude bed did not really resemble the stable in Bethlehem. Yet somehow the text for his Christmas sermon seemed to be addressed to him. It seemed to him as though the Christmas miracle had just happened, right now, before his eyes. He felt the promise of peace and goodwill in the forest silence and in the brilliance of the stars.
After the midnight service Joseph Mohr went home. But he found no sleep. He went into his study and tried to put down on paper what had happened to him. The words kept turning into verse, and when dawn broke, he had written a poem.
On Christmas Day, Joseph took his poem to Xavier Gruber who, liking the words, composed music for it. Silent Night came into being.
And of course, Joseph as he walked down that mountain had been right. The Christmas miracle had just happened before his eyes. Every time a child is born, every time a child is loved, every time one person says in word or deed ‘You matter’, the Christmas miracle happens again: God is born in our midst. Emmanuel.