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The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Sunday 30 December 2018 11.30am Matins
Isaiah 41.21 – 42.1 & 1 John 1.1-7
One of the problems with making the events we celebrate at Christmas into a lovely, easily accessible story is that we tend to forget the profound nature of what we are celebrating, we tend to overlook the theology of what occurred and we tend to gloss over the deeply challenging nature of the message Jesus proclaimed. I heard a sermon recently that described Jesus as ‘the divine disrupter’. Despite the fact that the events we celebrate at Christmas can be made into a nice little story, they actually tell us a great deal about God, the way God is and the way God works, and it’s all very strange and disturbing and disrupting!
I have discovered a lovely prayer recently which helps to shake us out of the complacency of slipping into the lovely, old, comfortable Christmas story like we slip into a pair of lovely, old, comfortable slippers. Listen to this;
Lord Jesus Christ, you came to a stable when men looked in a palace; you were born in poverty when we might have anticipated riches; King of all the earth you were content to visit one nation; Creator of the universe you accepted the hills and plains of Galilee as the backcloth for your ministry. From the beginning to the end, your life held people in suspense, and its surprises force us to reconsider our values and priorities.
Come to us Lord Jesus, Do not let us take you for granted or pretend that we ever fully understand you. Continue to surprise us so that, kept alert, we are always ready to receive you as Lord and to do your will. Amen
This prayer reminds us that the Christmas story is peculiar and unusual, it reveals God in a way we would never have expected.
By focussing on the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke we tend to ignore the fact that Mark doesn’t make any allusion to the birth of Jesus in his gospel, so anxious is he to tell us of the significance and impact of Jesus’ ministry. And we tend to skim over what John says at the beginning of his gospel because it sounds fantastic, but it is a bit difficult,
‘In the beginning was the Word ……. and the Word became flesh and lived among us.’
What we celebrate at Christmas is not just a nice story. Yes, it centres on the birth of a child but it is not just good news for nice neat families who have the privilege of being able to gather together to enjoy and celebrate ‘family-ness’ at Christmas. The events we celebrate are all about God becoming one of us, the way it happened is almost incidental. The way it happened is certainly incidental to St Mark and St John!
Isaiah, in our first reading, speaks of a ‘herald of good tidings’ but goes on to say that no one actually listened, their response was a delusion, their response to the good tidings was to make images which were empty wind. That certainly resonates with the way the Christmas story is received by many of us. You know the aphorism, ‘don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’ which means that sometimes when we are trying to strip everything down to bare essentials we mistakenly get rid of the essence, the thing that is essential. With Christmas I think we could turn this aphorism around, we are in danger of throwing away the baby (the essence of Christmas) because we love wallowing in the lovely warm Christmassy bath water!
What is important about what we celebrate in this season is not angels and babies born to virgins and shepherds and wise men, what is important is that ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’, God became one of us, one with us to share in our lives forever, to accompany us in our lives every step of the way. So Christmas is not just good news for children, it is not just good news for families, it is good news for those who are struggling, for those who are sick, for those who are bereaved, for those who are in prison or oppressed, for those whose faith is only a faint glimmer, for those who feel that God has abandoned them. The Good News of Christmas is that God is saying to all people, ‘I am with you’, ‘I walk with you’, ‘I suffer with you’, ‘I weep with you’, as well as ‘I rejoice with you’.
There are those who would say to this, ‘So what?’ ‘So what if God walks by my side as I suffer, what difference does that make, I am still suffering?’ Christmas does not stand alone, in a few months we will be celebrating Easter which shows us that by being one with us God leads us always to new ways of being, God leads us to new ways of living, God reveals that healing, resurrection, re-creation, new life is what God wants for all people.
Christmas is not just good news for those of us who can come to church, sing Away in a manger and then go home for Turkey and presents in front of a roaring fire. Christmas is good news for all people, and we as Christians, we as ‘the body of Christ’, are called to help make it so by our compassion, generosity, understanding and love towards all people.
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