This baby was different from most others. Usually a birth is a big event for the immediate family and close friends, but leaves the rest of the world indifferent or even unaware. The birth of this particular child and what followed, created a substantial stir well beyond the interests of the parents: the whole world learned about this child’s predicament. I’m talking about Vanellope Hope Wilkins, a baby girl born with the heart outside the body, who underwent her first surgery within one hour of delivery. Her condition had been discovered at a nine-week scan, and her parents were advised that ‘termination’ was the only option. They decided against it and worried about their unborn daughter throughout the whole pregnancy. After three operations since the child’s birth, it’s all looking good – though she’s not out of the woods yet. Nevertheless, the story looks great – from a safe distance, that is, and with the benefit of hindsight.

Personally, I see this as a different and modern version of the Nativity story, although of course proportional. There was a young mother, Mary by name, who was with child out of wedlock. She’d have been stoned if it had not been for her husband Joseph’s loving care. The nine months of pregnancy – as most mothers know – was a mixture of joy, expectation, dreams, plans, discomfort, inconvenience and anxiety. As the time of delivery approached Mary had to set out on a long and dangerous journey in order to comply with the demands of the government of the time. She ended up in a stable on the outskirts of the town of Bethlehem, where she gave birth to her baby boy. Soon thereafter the whole family would have to flee persecution and become refugees in Egypt.

‘The greatest story ever told’ has been told so many times over the centuries that it has probably stopped touching and moving us as it ought to do. Its sanitised and glamorized version serves to warm the heart. But when we strip it of all the ornamental, decorative and supernatural bits and pieces, the reality is harsh and hard to swallow. But such a de-glamorized story of Jesus’ birth reflects more truly the hard reality of many ordinary lives. Such a de-glamorized story of Jesus presents much better to us the staggering humility of God who became Man for our sake.

Having listened to the first part of my sermon, you’d be justified in thinking that I’m a regular party-pooper, offering you traditional priestly doom-and-gloom. In fact, our traditional Christmas – with family gatherings, festive food and so on – creates a superb opportunity to appreciate what each one of us has in terms of physical, mental, spiritual and material well-being. Christmas creates a great opportunity to share a few moments of joy with loved-ones and friends; moments that often are in short supply over the year as we battle against the odds on a daily basis. So, I encourage each and every one of you to make the most of this Christmas. And when eventually it’s over, hold dear those moments in your heart for those difficult, challenging or downright despairing times that lie ahead. The memories of the love and joy experienced this year will help you to get through to the next Christmas. It’s only twelve months away. Happy Christmas!