SERMON; CELEBRATING CHRISTMAS
Lord, consider my thoughts, guide my words and make them acceptable to you and to those who would receive them. Amen
The story of Jesus’ birth that we have read over the course of this evening is quite the story.
In it, there are four people or groups which are told of the birth. The first is Mary, at that point not yet married, who is visited by the angel Gabriel, and told that she will conceive a child through the Holy Spirit and that the child will be the Son of the Most High. We are used to the story, so it is less startling to us now than it must have been to her.
She doesn’t seem to be that startled by the arrival of the angel, so perhaps this was a dream, but ladies, can you imagine explaining that to your fiancé, gentlemen, can you imagine your fiancé telling you she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit?
Perhaps most amazing is not Mary’s being “greatly troubled” an understatement I would think, but that she accepted being the one chosen to be Jesus’ mother. I imagine she must have been terrified at the prospect of having to tell Joseph and of the birth and, but she came through it … through faith.
Then it was Joseph’s turn. He had decided to simply and quietly annul the engagement and not shame Mary. Clearly, he didn’t believe her story, but he too was visited by an angel and this time we know it was in a dream. This was before Freud spoiled the supernatural nature of dreams. So, the dream was significant to Joseph and to be heeded. With great faith in God, he accepted the pregnant Mary as his wife, and, later on, Jesus as his son.
Then it was the shepherds’ turn. Can you imagine what it would be like. You’re out in the fields at night, guarding your sheep against wolves or accidents and suddenly the heavens open in a burst of light like sheet lightning … and stay lit! Then angels are singing and telling you of the birth of Jesus - what an extraordinary scene. No wonder the shepherds were terrified. No wonder they went to Bethlehem to check out the story.
All we hear about them after that is that they spread the word. Shepherds were itinerant and reputed to be thieves and liars, the lowest of the low, so I don’t suppose they went to see the Jewish aristocracy. They probably spread the message around the campfire with other shepherds, saying “Do you know what happened to us the other night? Boy, do I have a story for you!”
God passed his message of Jesus’ birth through the poor and lowly. This was a forerunner of Jesus being a King of love and peace, not war and conquest. Reminds me of the 1960’s slogan “Make love, not war.”
Lastly it was the turn of the Wise Men. We don’t know much about them except that they came from the east, outside the Roman Empire, probably from the Persian Empire or the Arab Peninsula. They were an early sign that Christianity was to include not just the Jews but Gentiles.
They were probably astronomers of the time, and so would have understood aberrations in the stars. They interpreted the star as heralding the birth of a king, whom they presented with expensive gifts. They were obviously wealthy and probably had their retinue with them. And they were sophisticated as they understood the politics of Herod trying to find where this rival King, as he thought, had been born.
So four very different revelations - to a young girl, an older man, poor shepherds and wealthy astronomer kings, all told directly by God, all accepting the news because of their different kinds of faith.
If we went around the church tonight, I expect that we would also find very different kinds of faith. Christmas is a time when the congregation is made up of people who attend very regularly and people who come once a year and everything in between. People come to church for very different reasons. It is a time of celebration, but we celebrate different aspects of Christmas.
For some Christ is their personal Saviour, redeeming the world from its sins and Christmas is the celebration of the birth of that Saviour.
For some, the story of Christ’s birth is a combination of history and mystery, myth and allegory, providing a base line for the moral and ethical direction of Christian faith; Christmas is a time to celebrate that faith.
For some, their faith is much more ethereal than that but they know that they feel better when they leave the church than when they walk in, maybe re-centring life a little.
For some, Christmas is a time when the family can get together, catch up, exchange gifts and enjoy each others’ company. Going to the Christmas Eve service is part of that family ritual.
For others it is simply the music or an expression of support for the community and its institutions.
And all of these reasons are good reasons to be here.
- To celebrate your faith,
- To celebrate with friends and family,
- To celebrate your community,
- To reflect a little and to sing.