Sermon - Christmas Day Year C - | DB Home | RCL Resources Index |
[Note: This is "solid fare" for a family service and may need adaptation according to the situation - as with all my written sermons - but it is has been preached and the message should not be compromised. Simplification is sometimes desirable, you don't need to cover everything on one occasion, and often illustrations are helpful, but reducing the impact of the Gospel to fit more easily into popular expectations of Christmas or any aspect of the Good News is a betrayal. A different approach is taken in the Christmas Day sermons for Years A and B, but it is necessary sometimes to challenge people to raise their sights, and see "the big picture".]
Let us try to see the big picture. The Christmas story is a nice story. The birth of a baby in humble circumstances, and he became quite famous. He was good man, most people say. His being a good man, whom many would take as an example, and whose teachings are widely acknowledged, adds some point to the story, but is it enough?
Why is the Christmas story significant? Surely, a happy family occasion, about 70 or so generations back in the past, in an obscure village of a distant part of the Roman Empire, does not justify a worldwide celebration, or give any real cause for the celebration of family life today, unless it is part of a bigger picture, having universal or cosmic significance? Even if you think of it as a collection of myths, and I am not saying that it is, but even if you do, why are such stories attached to the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth? Why do people believe about him things that are believed about no other person who has ever lived?
To understand why that is, we need to have an understanding of what people believed about his part in the big picture? The big picture of where it all came from and where it is heading. What is the purpose of God in creation? Why are we here?
The role of Christ in God's plan for the world
According to the Scriptures, the secret purpose or mystery of God's will was to bring everything into a unity with himself -- that is everything in heaven and on earth; everything in this life and in the world beyond -- and he intended to do this through Christ who was the means of fulfilling God's plan and purpose.
Our destiny is to be with God, to know him and enjoy him for ever. It was to fulfil this destiny for us that Christ came to inaugurate a new set of relationship. Does that make sense?
Can I ask you to play a little game in your mind, and play God? That should not be too difficult, most people are quite good at playing God! Suppose you have made some creatures and put them in a garden with plenty of food and water and all that they need to survive. You, the creator, have creatures. What is more, you have made them like yourself, intelligent and self aware, able to reflect upon their lives and who they are, and able to share their different understandings with each other. Can you see them moving about in the garden, living the lives you have given them? You care about them. You would like them to able to use their powers of speaking, their capacity for communication, to communicate with their creator. Indeed sometimes they do try to talk to you. They are aware that you exist, but they can't see you and search about rather aimlessly. Your heart goes out to them and you would love them to know you more fully and personally, but much of the time they seem blind to all the signs you have put up about where to find you and how to live a good life. They are rebellious and quarrelsome. If only you could reach out to them as a parent does to a child! How would you do it? How would you reach out to the creatures that you had made? Would it make sense somehow to go and live among them, as one of them? If that can make sense to you when you are playing God, do you think it might make sense to God in the real world? Is it not quite a sensible thing to do? It is what we say God was doing in the coming of Jesus Christ.
To get the full significance, including the hard part, the real point of it, however, it is necessary to appreciate how rebellious and filled with pride God's creatures were. They needed a great deal of help before they would be able to fulfil their destiny of forming a relationship to their Creator. They would have to change. Jesus spoke of the change coming as the Kingdom of God or eternal life or the Age to come. It is a change in relationships which begins in this life and is completed in God's time in the life of the resurrection. So in this life and the next a new wholeness replaces disease with health, estrangement with reconciliation, isolation and loneliness with family and community, hope in the place of despair, peace where there was conflict, love rather than hatred, life instead of death. It is a change of relationships between God and his human creatures and between them as families and communities. What we believe is that Jesus, the Messiah, actually made this possible -- he did so by removing the barriers that separate us from God. To do that he had to do more than simply appear in the garden. When he came he had work to do! We cannot celebrate his coming without realising that it was a challenge to him.
The work of Christ for the Kingdom of God
Can you see the big picture of what God was doing in sending Christ into the world? In Christ God rescued us -- that is why Mary sang "my spirit rejoices in God my saviour" -- releasing us from a power that could keep us from fulfilling our destiny to be with God. So we a brought into a kingdom of love. Our sins -- those things which separate us from God -- are forgiven. We are redeemed, like a slave or hostage whose freedom has been purchased. ... through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, ...
And it was at a price:
The writer to the Hebrews regarded him as the one who purifies our relationship with God and is honoured for offering himself as a sacrifice:
Who was he who could do these things?
To get the big picture you also need to see who the Saviour needed to be to do these things, and thus to appreciate what a big thing it was for him to come. If these things could be done, rescuing and redeeming his people, then that baby born at Bethlehem was no mean creature, or, more correctly, he was both ordinary and extraordinary.
For Paul he was indeed extraordinary:
Now where else have we heard something like that? In the gospel for today:
Paul talks of this one who was from the very beginning the means of creation and its Lord, just as John sees him as the word through which God called the world into being. Paul and John make a common witness from quite different points of view, writing to different people in different situations and speaking almost different languages. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews writes from yet another quite different perspective, and still makes the same claims for Christ:
Paul sees him as the one who rescued us from the power of darkness and John sees him as the light of the world:
That is what we believe: here the purpose of God is being worked out; in spite of us and our failings he came to us to restore us to himself. The historical Jesus is the Word of God whose actions reveal the nature of God while he acts to bring inaugurate the Kingdom of God.
So Paul says:
Or in the letter to the Hebrews: He is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being
He gave power to become children of God, and so, to fulfill the purpose of God, the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
That is the good news we celebrate today: it is about a decisive turning point in the history of the world. A comic event that makes a real difference; and the difference it makes is available to those who are prepared of their own free will to accept it by faith.
What difference does it make?
It can make a difference to home and family and national life, to live by faith, trusting God accepting and giving love, understanding marriage as a means of grace in which our relationship with God is nurtured as we nurture one another, and similarly to see government as a means of fulfilling God's purposes for humanity.
It is the experience of believers that such a faith in what God was doing in Christ can indeed transform our lives completely So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
So our relationship with others is changed:
That is what it is all about - in this world and the next. It makes a difference to our eternal destiny:
Or in John's terms: the bringing in of the Kingdom is the same as the offer of eternal life:-
The point is this: if it is true, it does make a difference. It was indeed reason for the angels to sing as we still sing with "all the company of heaven":
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours! -- and that's you! Glory to him.
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