Christmas Eve, 2019

We know the Christmas story so well. Jesus is born in among farm animals. One commentator suggests that this might not be as bad as is traditionally interpreted. This was probably the warmest place in the house. But I don’t know, having grown up on a farm, and walking among Chris Wise’s dairy cows, I know there is nothing subtle about an animal enclosure.

Its much more likely that the intent of this story was to lift up the contradiction between two leaders. King Herod, the puppet King of Palestine, appointed by Rome, and Jesus, the King of the World, embraced by shepherds and foreigners, the most unlikely of witnesses.

This is the story, ultimately, of the battle between good and evil.

Jesus changed the world while the Herods of the world have mostly, a legacy of fear and brutality.

This is not a feel-good story meant to make us feel all fuzzy and sentimental on Christmas Eve. This is a story that comes to assure and challenge us.

It’s a story meant as comfort to us when we feel defeated, lost or alone. It comes to assure us that we never fall outside of God’s blanket of love.

It comes to challenge us when our strength is renewed, our vision refocused, and our direction determined.

We are not passive consumers of God’s love. We have a task to fulfill in response to this love.

The Jesus of Christmas is validated by God’s love. But we get to validate his dream by the way we live.

Faith is not so much about believing correctly as it about living correctly. This Jesus demonstrated in his birth and life and death.

How do we respond to his birth.

Herod, pre-warned by the Wise Men’s enquiry, saw him as a threat.

The foreigners from a distant land chose not to stand with Herod.

Imagine the consequences had these foreigners informed Herod of the child’s whereabouts.

So, tonight we celebrate. Tomorrow we act. Our actions determine whether we work for Herod’s kingdom or God’s kingdom. It’s as simple as that.

In a world that appears to grow angrier and more dangerous again, it is our time to show up and speak up and put up.

Spare a thought for the strangers in our midst and at our borders. Could it be that among them are some of the Wise Men and Women, the outsiders, bearing gifts God may intend for us and our communities?

How about those who are lonely tonight, even here in the midst of our celebrations. Are we open to their loneliness?

And those who grieve rub shoulders with us this evening. People very aware of the empty space at their dinner table.

The needs are great and small and we have been called to be as Christ to them, a comfort, an advocate, and presence of goodwill and mercy. Not only now but every day.

As WH Auden said in his poem;

For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.

Tonight we are reminded that every one of us becomes God’s beloved in this stable-story. Each one “a You, not just an It.”

Now let’s make that our mission in life, to allow others to discover that they are a person of infinite value, never a nobody.

To use another quote by Auden;

How should we like it were stars to burn

With a passion for us we could not return?

If equal affection cannot be,

Let the more loving one be me.

Let us strive to always be the more loving one. In Jesus’ name.

To all, a blessed and Holy Christmas. Amen.

 

From “For the Time Being”

English-American poet, W.H. Auden

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes –
Some have got broken – and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week –
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted – quite unsuccessfully –
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.

ANNOUNCE

Welcome and Christmas greetings to all/Thank you for cards, gifts, emails and Christmas wishes. From Henza and myself—may your days be filled with beauty and love this season.

Next Sunday will be a hymn-sing

Offering—veteran’s of the cross

Candles—keep the burning candle upright at all times, especially when passing the light to your neighbor. Let the neighbor dip their candle to receive the light. Extinguish after the singing of the hymn.

 

Luke 2

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah,* the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,* praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’*

Matthew 2

2In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men* from the East came to Jerusalem, 2asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,* and have come to pay him homage.’ 3When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him;