Reflection Dec 25th: Christmas

Church Newsletter 122423

 

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

 

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

 

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overtake it.

 

These are the opening lines of the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

 

Matthew starts with a genealogy, Mark a prophecy, Luke, the story of a couple waiting for a child, and John, a poem.

 

They are all distinct. And yet they are all doing something similar, they are rooting Jesus in a larger story. The story of God.

 

The God

  • whose Word speaks creation into being,
  • who calls a people to be a blessing to all nations,
  • who hears the cries of the oppressed,
  • who liberates from slavery
  • and who is revealed through the fierce truth telling about sin but also fierce hope of the prophets in dark times.

Our regulars here will know that this past month of Advent as we have prepared ourselves for this day – this celebration of the Incarnate Christ – we have been reflecting on the theme, “how does a weary world rejoice?” Each week we have explored a different response to that question.

 

We have said, a weary world rejoices by –

  • acknowledging our weariness
  • finding joy in connection
  • allowing ourselves to be amazed
  • singing stories of hope

And today by “rooting ourselves in tradition.”

 

Like the gospel writer’s rooted Jesus in the story and tradition of the Hebrew Scriptures, we today, root ourselves in the story and tradition of Jesus and the church.

 

Every Christmas morning, a community of faith gathers together in this place and people across the world gather in their particular places to tell the same story of a baby born in a manger. The plot never changes. There are never any surprise twists. So why do we do it? Why do we keep telling this same story?

 

I think we tell this story because our spirits need to hear it.

 

Why?

 

Well my spirit needs this story for lots of reasons. But let me mention two that I have been thinking about this year.

 

Many things have happened this year and in the years before as well in which I found myself wondering why did that happen, where is God in this situation? I don’t imagine I am alone in this. And I am still struggling with some of those things and while this story does not give me neat answers to all my questions, it does continue to hold me and my wrestling and my angst, sometimes even panic about the world.

 

One of the things that causes me great panic is the sense that our world is been run by despots, and not particularly intelligent or creative ones. Their decisions impact the lives of millions of people, but they really do not seem to care about anyone or anything except their own power and wealth.

 

And sometimes I feel like we are all like  Mary and Joseph, at the mercy of some policy that someone came up with, with no understanding or concern about the how it might work on the ground. And we just have to go along with it because there is no way to actually speak to anyone, particularly not anyone who has the ability to change anything.

 

And so my spirit needs to hear that when God breaks into history through the Incarnation, it was not the rich and powerful who discerned it, it was not the Emperor Augustus nor the governor Quirinius who glimpsed it, rather it was Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph and the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night.  It is these ordinary ones, these poor and humble ones, sometimes scorned ones who are present when the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us.

 

Yes Jesus enters the world of Augustus and the angel in fact makes the same promises as the Empire – good news, a saviour, peace – but the angel’s message is not spoken in the Empire’s halls of power. God’s good news, God’s salvation and peace is radically different to that of Ceasar’s. It is not brought about through violence and oppression. It is not just for some but for all.

 

The story assures me that the work of God is always unfolding. And is unfolding in ordinary lives, through ordinary people no matter what is happening at the top. As Ruth Harvey from Iona who was with us this year puts it, “I believe God weaves a pattern, a golden thread through all lives and all of life! This golden thread, the Holy Spirit, if you like, is alive and continues to guide us.

 

Another thing that causes me great panis is the world’s endless appetite for violence and for war. My spirit needs to hear the promise of peace.

 

This week I found myself listening to Martin Luther Kings Christmas sermon from 1967 titled peace on earth, he said,

“This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and goodwill toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have goodwill toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power. Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the very destructive power of modern weapons and warfare eliminates even the possibility that war may any longer serve as a negative good. And so, if we assume that life is worth living, if we assume that mankind has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war — and so let us this morning think anew on the meaning of that Christmas hope: “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men.”

 

As I read this I thought gosh it literally could have been written any year since and would make sense.

 

But the story assures us that despite the fact that the world can be a very dark place sometimes that the light has shone in that darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

 

And finally as this year comes to a close and I start to make some plans for next year, and begin to speculate about what will happen I find it easy to begin to feel overwhelmed and anxious and afraid. When I consider the ongoing increases in the cost of living, school and work pressures, physical and mental health challenges, bullying, the climate catastrophe I begin to feel my pressure rise and my heart rate increase.

 

My spirit needs to hear the angels message, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.”

 

This is the third time that the angel has said these words, “fear not.” He said them to Zechariah and Mary and now to the shepherds. And the angel said these words not because there was nothing be afraid of, clearly there was much to fear, in those days as well. Rather because God was coming into this fearful world.  Heaven did not declare “fear not” from a distance.  By taking on humanity Christ takes on fear. By taking on humanity Christ heals it.  And this healing does not just happen in Jerusalem on Good Friday but it starts in Bethlehem.  As Irraneus who lived only 100 years after Christ would put it, “It is the whole life of Jesus that saves us, not just the crucifixion.” I don’t think I need to tell you that some things have gone wrong with humanity.  In Jesus’s humanity sin and fear and death do not have the final word.

 

The angel’s song implores us throughout the centuries to live as Jesus lived as if Jesus lived – courageously, compassionately, generously, vulnerably, faithfully and joyfully despite the risks.  We do this, As Willie Jennings puts it, “as an act of resistance against death and despair and all its forces and all the ways they want to drive us towards death and make death the final word, not simply the end of life but death as in all the ways life can be strangled and presented to us as not worth living.”

 

Every Christmas morning, a community of faith gathers together in this place and people across the world gather in their particular places to tell the same story of a baby born in a manger. The plot never changes. There are never any surprise twists. So why do we do it? Why do we keep telling this same story?

 

We tell this story because our spirits need to hear it. Over and over and over again, like water in the desert, we need to be reminded that God has drawn close to this hurting world. We need to be reminded that God just couldn’t stay away.”

 

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