Christmas Day - 8.00 a.m.
In the long build-up to Christmas, which seems to begin earlier each year, we witness a commercial frenzy of advertising showing us the presents we must give, the food and drink we must consume and the different ways we can borrow money to pay for all this.
And we talk wistfully about “the real meaning of Christmas” which surely must go deeper than all this superficial hype and the stress it induces as we struggle yet again to cope with the demands and expectations of the festive season.
Christmas, we know, is really about the story of the birth of Jesus. In this story we hear of Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds, cattle and mangers, stars and kings. And, of course, the baby himself, vulnerable and tiny but wrapped up warm and safe. We bring this story to life in nativity plays and we sing carols about the baby’s birth in the little town of Bethlehem. There are many paintings and carvings in wood or stone which portray this familiar and much-loved scene.
As we look upon this nativity scene, however it’s depicted, let’s be aware also of a deeper mystery that lies behind the events of that first Christmas. Let’s consider for a while the great mystery of the incarnation which John unfolds for us in our Gospel reading and which gives Christmas its true and eternal meaning: that God himself is born to live among us and to draw us into a new relationship with him as his children.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
“In the beginning was the Word.”
John begins his book with words that echo those at the beginning of the book of Genesis: “In the beginning”. He is taking us to a dimension outside time and space where there is only God and his Word.
The first chapter of Genesis tells us about the creation of the world in terms of things we can experience through our senses: water, vegetation, animals and so on. And the climax of this creative process is God’s creation of human beings, made in his own image.
John gives us a deeper insight into this process of creation. He speaks of a mysterious Word through whom all things come into being. He seems to be describing something that represents the mind of God, the meaning and purpose God gives to everything he creates and his relationship with his creation, especially with human beings.
The climax of John’s story is that this Word of God himself takes the form of a human being in order to live alongside us.
In Genesis the first words God speaks are “Let there be light.” John proclaims that the Word who comes to live among us is that light, now shining in the darkness of a broken creation with an inextinguishable brightness.
The baby we see lying in a manger is that light of the world, shining among us and reuniting us with the light that came into being “in the beginning” when God created the heavens and the earth.
We can, if we wish, look at our nativity scenes, sing our carols and listen to the familiar readings without allowing ourselves to be part of the story they tell.
Or we can allow ourselves to be drawn deeper into the great mystery of the incarnation that John talks about. We can become aware of the light that enlightens everyone, including us; we can become aware that God’s light has come to shine in the darkness of our lives, our hearts, our minds and our spirits.
We can become aware of the invitation extended to us by this baby, this light of the world, the Word of God made flesh. That invitation is to receive the power to become children of God, to be born in a new way into that spiritual dimension outside time and space where new worlds are created, brokenness is healed, tears are wiped away and each one of us grows fully into being the men and women God created us to be.
All we have to do to accept this invitation, says John, is to accept the Word of God, to receive him and to believe in his name. His name is Jesus and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
Christmas Midnight - 2014
I wonder if any of you were able to make it along to our amazing Festival of Christmas Trees? It was wonderful to have over 5,000 people visit the church through those three days, coming to enjoy the spectacle and begin the magic and the wonder of Christmas.
Though I must say I was rather taken aback when the main church tree was not it's usual bright white statement of the one pure light of Christ, but this year was rather a Rainbow of colour. I will come back to this thought in a moment.....but firstly lets just think why we celebrate the Birth of our Saviour today on the 25th December? No one knows for certain the date of the birth of Jesus, but if you look at the biblical evidence about the Birth of John the Baptist and work from that, we can say that Jesus was probably born towards the end of September - so why the 25th December?
The Winter solstice goes back to 10,200 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, into the Neolitithic period. Worldwide interpretation of the event has varied from culture to culture, but many cultures have held a recognition of rebirth involving holidays, festivals, gatherings and rituals around the shortest day and the hope that the great light would come again. The Romans celebrated a festival called 'Dies Natalis Invicti' which means - birthday of the unconquered sun and this was held on December 25th.
It was the Roman Emperor Constantine, the first Christian Roman Emperor, who held the first celebration of Christmas on December 25th in the year 336 AD and perhaps no wonder that just a few years later the Church adopted the date formally as they boldly proclaimed that Jesus was indeed the 'unconquered Light of the World' who had been promised through the Old Testament prophets as the Sun of Righteousness.
So Jesus official Birthday has been set for all time at December 25th.
So lets Get back to our rainbow of colour on the Christmas tree in church. Rainbows are of course something wonderful and amazing. As child, maybe as an adult , you will rush to a window or outside when a rainbow appears to marvel at its colours and wonder where the pot of Gold maybe? Many songs have been written about rainbows: Who can forget the Christmas classic, certainly from when I was a boy, of Judy garland in The wizard of Oz singing ; Somewhere over the Rainbow, way up high, all the dreams that you dreamed of once in a lullaby, or the classic children's song; I can sing a rainbow: Red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and blue, I can sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow, sing a rainbow too - and has the verse - Listen with eyes, listen with your ears and sing everything you see.
The Old Testament too has a rainbow, it comes at the end of the story of Noah and his great ark - it comes in Chapter 9 of Genesis. The waters have receded and the ark lands safely and the rainbow appears and God says: 'I have set by bow in the clouds and it shall be sign of the covenant between me and the earth ...when I see it I will remember the everlasting covenant. That is that I will be your God and you will be my beloved people.
Tonight as we gather there is something which is so difficult to put into words happening: God is renewing his covenant with us, his people. Tonight as we celebrate the one true light which has come into the world, which has been born amongst us as a tiny child, with all of the wonderment a new baby brings to its parents, what will they be like, what will they do and that bond of deep, deep love and affection, who then have shepherds arriving, coming from the hills and their sheep to find this child, this king with news that is completely out of this world of angels praising God. And then us, who with thousands of millions of people, who in each generation have gathered quietly in the midst of the night, at the dead of winter at the darkest time, we too come with our hopes and fears and dreams to marvel, to wonder as a mother tenderly gathers her newborn son to herself. Jesus who will in time cause such controversy that those who are fearful try to snuff out that eternal light. But rather than that light being snuffed out it bursts from the darkness of the tomb, from the darkness of death and then is refracted into a wonderful rainbow of colour through the lives of all those who have been faithful to God and to the promise that we celebrate this evening. Bringing hope and joy and peace. That the one true light fills the lives of generations of Christians so that we can gather this evening. This light can never be snuffed out, this light which is seen in the lives of faithful men and women in each generation , this light which is ours. Jesus Christ, the fulfilment of God's covenant that he will for all time be our God and we his people.
At our Festival of Christmas Trees, a rainbow of colour on a Christmas tree reflecting the light of Christ lived out in every generation faithfully, lived out faithfully here. And avenues of trees filled with light and the life of our community all leading to the church crib, set up under the under the altar. All of life comes tonight before the Christ child, all life comes before his redeeming work, all life is filled with his light - 'Listen with eyes, listen with your ears and sing everything you see'. Glory to God in the Highest.
2nd Sunday before Advent 2014
It started with three young men making fruit juice “smoothies” in their kitchen for friends and family. Now the company produces over thirty different recipes, sells more than two million smoothies weekly in the UK and overseas, and gives ten per cent of its profits to charity.
The company’s founders began with a passion to help people live more healthily, plus £500. They spent this on fruit, made their favourite recipes and set out a stall at a local music festival. Above it, they put a sign: “Should we give up our day job to make these smoothies full-time?” Customers could vote by placing their empty bottles in either a “yes” bin or a “no” bin below. By the end of the day, the “yes” bin was full. The three friends had pledged to resign their jobs the next day and put all their energies into building their business if the “yes” bin was filled. The key to their success had been the willingness to take the risk of starting out with the resources they had, and a tenacity that refused to give up.
In his parable of the talents, Jesus contrasts two servants who began and sustained their enterprises with a third servant who did neither. Jesus’ story depicts the economy of God’s kingdom, as the absent master apportions talents between his three servants and trusts his resources to their stewardship. These resources were considerable. In the New Testament, a talent is a unit of money worth what would take a labourer around fifteen years to earn.
These days the word “talent” refers to personal qualities and gifts rather than material commodities. However, two servants demonstrate skills and inner qualities of character as they respond to their master’s trust. They rise to the task of putting his money to work and generate a growth that doubles what each had to begin with. Though the master is away for a long while, they maintain their sense of responsibility without his immediate oversight, and offer him the full fruits of their labours with his provision on his return.
The returning master’s delight in these servants is evident. His trust has been well rewarded and they are rewarded, too. These servants gain a greater share both in the master’s work of managing his resources and in his joy at the abundance of growth created.
This sense of expansiveness and generosity is absent from the third servant, who has hidden and hoarded his master’s goods. He has been inactive on his master’s behalf, shunning accountability for what has been given. He even attributes his own meanness of spirit to his master, accusing him of being harsh and exploitative, as an excuse for shrinking back into himself and refusing his master’s commission. The servant has shown that he wants nothing of the invitation to be part of the life of the master’s estate. So the stewardship that he regarded as a liability, not a privilege, is taken away; he no longer belongs in his master’s house.
Jesus tells this story on the brink of his passion, and in the context of his ultimate return at the end of the age. When God comes among his people, through his prophets or in person, he entrusts them with his resources to use for the sake of his kingdom. Like all good stories, Jesus’ parable poses a question for his hearers: how are they using what their heavenly master has given, even in his apparent absence? Have they faithfully offered his word and worked to grow God’s kingdom, or have they sat tight and buried his message in the ground? What will they have to show the master when he returns?
As God’s people awaiting Christ’s return, what has the master entrusted to us: material advantages, gifts, skills, time, opportunity? Whatever we have been given, it comes with a call to put the master’s resources to work for his glory and others’ blessing. As you know, we have recently started a youth club for 7-11's - 6 people offering their time and their love and their care for children - and we have seen the need there is with some 35 children already signed up. Jesus parable highlights that not all are given identical talents. What particular ones have you been given that can be used to help grow God’s kingdom as we seek to grow over the coming years?
Living as the master’s stewards involves an active response, putting ourselves out to make a start, perhaps being creative with a new enterprise. It will mean persevering when it seems as though the master has not been around for some time. We will have to come out of our comfort zones and take some risks.
I have asked for the Mission Action Plan response forms to be returned on or before Advent Sunday - please use these to help us discern where the needs are for both the church and the community we are called to serve in God's name.
We do this because God himself has already taken the ultimate risk in unconditionally sending his Son to die for our salvation. How will we share that love unconditionally today?