Lord God, we give thanks for your Church and all that it means to us. We thank you that you continue to speak to us through the Bible; May we always be willing and ready to listen. Blessed be the Word.
Another momentous year is drawing to a close. In the busyness of Advent a wealthy businessman recently stated, “The economy is great, and people are really spending. In this financially profitable season it has been the best Christmas ever!” Sadly, in these avaricious times it really has come down to this, as we approach December 25th again.
Yet, something tells us, the Church, we’re outsiders. We do not belong. We’re to be in the world, but not of the world. The theme of “exile” running through this service applies to Christians as “strangers in the world”. The church is in a similar situation to Israel at the end of the Old Testament: in exile, waiting and hoping in eager expectation for the coming of Christ’s kingdom when He returns for His people.
A traditional 9 lessons and carol service interrupts out bad Advent habits and slushy nostalgia and gives us an opportunity to pause and take stock of it all. Surely the FIRST CHRISTMAS was the best one ever?
Clearly it’s a rhetorical question. YES is the answer!
Christmas shopping is a big commercial success story, but when Good Lord gave the gift of salvation, He didn’t send a booklet of complicated instructions for us to figure out as if we’re playing some sort of board game. He sent His Son, content with a stable when He was born so that we could have a mansion when we die.
Right now we are exiles. We are absent from the New Jerusalem. Christmas becomes a real celebration when we see this truth. If you believe then Jesus’ resurrection guarantees yours!
So it’s not about venerating the jolly old fat men in red and the gross commercial lifestyle associated with this time of year. There are those lost exiles falling away by not hearing the message of Christ, and that means we must hasten the story to proclaim. This is more than a catchphrase.
Over the last twelve months chances are someone you knew, a friend or a family member died of cancer. This has been the year in which many celebrities have departed this mortal coil. Tragic news stories everyday remind us the world is filled with fear. Injustice lives alongside privilege, poverty next to obscene wealth and, despite being the season of peace and goodwill, violence prospers. We’re powerless, as there’s no way to avoid the stain of sin and evil in the world.
To avoid offending anybody with such biblical words we turn into weather forecasters! Singing enthusiastically about “Frosty the Snowman”, “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” and dreaming of a “White Christmas”. Honestly, glistening snow is beautiful to look at from inside a warm house, but certainly not if you’re a Syrian refugee fleeing Aleppo!
I wish there were more carols played on the airwaves. Don’t get me wrong I love an old-fashioned Christmas as much as anyone.
Two sheep are standing in a field and one says, “Just because I go bah it doesn’t mean you have to reply “humbug!!” I’m no bah-humbug. However, it’s more than just a holiday period. It’s one of Christianity’s leading religious festivals and wouldn’t it be something, Cliff Richard and Boney-M aside, if Charles Wesley peaked at the Christmas no.1 with:-
Come, all you souls by sin oppressed,
You restless exiles after rest,
You poor, and maimed, and sick and blind,
For God has called all humankind.
Come in, this moment, at his call,
And live for him who died for all.
Well hark the herald angels too for the Gracious Lord has long contended with stubborn people yet has opened heaven to our sight. We are carol singing His cosmic purpose of the Good News!
Today’s pilgrims to Bethlehem get off their coaches and go straight to the Church of the Nativity – the venerated place where Jesus was born, built on the orders of the Emperor Constantine early in the 4th century. It once had a Gothic entrance, but ever since the desecration of the church during the Crusades, all visitors have to enter by a small door, barely five feet high.
Of course it’s not the actual place where once stood a lowly cattle shed in which a faithful young girl laid her baby in an animal’s feeding box. That does not matter. What is important is that at the church all worshippers stoop to get in. As they bend low they will surely remember that humility is the first lesson for all who try to comprehend earth-joining heaven, God coming into His world as a human being.
It’s not complicated for exiles. Those who have set themselves against God, in the bleak midwinter, repentance and humility is all it takes for vile sinners to gather at the manger. Not the cosy Christmas card scene by the way. But the harshness of fragile life birthed in the depths of stinking reality where everything safe and familiar is changed forever.
A reporter stopped one young woman on the pavement, and asked, “What is the meaning of Christmas?”
Laughing, she responded, “I don’t know. Is that the day that Jesus died?” She didn’t know it, but there was some truth in her answer.
Christmas means that no longer is God trapped in ancient Scriptures, or speaking through His prophets. His Word has put on flesh and that Word is the Light of Life. That Word is Love, even to the point of sacrificial death.
Jesus born to exiled parents under a Roman census. Shepherds, the hillside exiles, were the first to glimpse the Messiah. Wise men ride by starlight from the east, leaving home, forsaking comfort, as exiles drawn to one mysterious baby destined from His earliest months for rejection, conflict and danger. Herod’s anger would soon see the Holy Family become homeless exiles from the land promised their ancestors.
The same land where from the dust of the ground the Creator God formed Adam and breathed life into his nostrils. And Eve, also wonderfully made by the Lord, was his companion. They had no knowledge of good and evil and subsequently no questions about life, health, finance, family, the future, or does God exist?
None needed to be asked, as they lived in harmony with God. Until they failed the ideal test of obedience and let the devil tempt them.
There’s a story to tell of creation, as sin entered the world’s story, and we have been ashamed, guilty and exiles ever since. Yet in this wonderful season humanity is given another jolt, like a fire alarm going off. I’ve had 47 jolts in my lifetime, some of you have 20-30-40 times more than that, this could be our last one, the last time we hear ringing in our ears how the birth of Jesus brings hope and peace into the problems and pressures of daily living and that salvation comes today.
The true meaning of Christmas is right here waiting to be discovered by today’s exiles, all people, men, women, children, rich or poor, scientists, theologians, peace-makers, farmers, soldiers, housewives, pensioners, saints and sinners, seekers, searchers. Even doubters and scoffers can look back over the last two millennia and catch a glimpse of God’s love.
Even atheists always seem to talking about God. For He has never stopped working; like an artist in the studio He allows us to glimpse in and take a look at the canvas upon which He is painting the picture of salvation. The New Jerusalem: the chance for exiles to return to paradise and eat once again from the Tree of Life.
Yet exiles prefer to turn their backs on the Christmas story. Will we dare read the signs and see God’s glory shining through despair and loss, reaching into human life in the most intimate way possible by becoming one of us? Or will we stay in the shadows preferring to hide now and for a lost eternity?
Life is about priorities and the central priority is Jesus Himself who as the “last Adam” was the perfect sacrifice for sin, the only one who could reconcile us to a holy God and save us from condemning ourselves to hell. What greater knowledge do we need in this earthly life?
Gloria in excelsis! The King of the Universe wants to be your friend. He didn’t come into the world so that we could enjoy a nice story about reindeer and snowmen. Neither is He an unwelcome salesman knocking at the door. He’s offering you salvation.
If you want His true presence and gift of Christmas fling it open wide and welcome Him with open arms for your life is like the morning fog. It’s here for a little while and then it’s gone. The world truly needs a STABLE influence.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!
Have a hopeful, peaceful, joyful and loving Christ-centered Christmas everyone. Merry Christmas.
Let us pray…
Heavenly Father, as we come to the end of our time together we thank you for what you have accomplished for us. Lord at your birth, may every home, every family, every human life have new meaning and dignity this Christmas. May we leave this service recognizing you are the Christmas child, the God of all wisdom who is willing to lead us into eternity. This we ask in the name of our Saviour, Friend and King. Amen.