A couple of weeks ago I preached on Christmas eve at a midnight service. There has been a substantial written complaint to the vicar about it. So I thought it might be worth posting it online for all to read…
Bible Passages: Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, John 1:1-14
In the readings this evening, we heard first from Isaiah, who told us,
How beautiful on the mountains
are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
“Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they shout for joy.
When the Lord returns to Zion,
they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord will lay bare his holy arm
in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see
the salvation of our God.
2016 has not been a good year for humanity. A selfish narcissistic misogynist has been elected president of the most powerful western country in the world. The terrible, ongoing events in Aleppo and across Syria are destroying humanity, and we can now watch these war crimes because of the internet. Food insecurity in Yemen, has turned into utter devastation and famine in the face of war. Bombings in Istanbul. The Zika virus is a pandemic in progress, causing babies to be born disabled. In France, a terror attack on Bastille day, left 86 people dead and over 430 injured. Regardless of how you voted in the EU referendum, the resulting racism has been hugely damaging to many in our communities. In the US, the police have regularly shot dead unarmed black people. Harambe the gorilla was shot dead in Cincinnati zoo and the world turned its venom on the mother whose child had got in his cage. 24 hour news and the ubiquity of the internet means that we can hear the voices of the suffering, see their faces, be confronted by the pain. It’s no longer far away in a distant land. It’s in our phone, in our pocket, in our handbag.
How can we rejoice when this is the world we live in? Isaiah wrote the passage I just read prophetically, envisaging a time when God will save humanity. And yet, we don’t lice in a time when peace, good tidings or salvation abound.
You may be sat there thinking, “Oh Natalie, please don’t remind me of the state of the world! It’s Christmas, and we should be thinking about nice things. Turkey dinners. Presents. Time with family. Rest and relaxation.”
Perhaps your personal life is going well, and you don’t want reminding of the awfulness in the world? Or maybe just like 2016 has been a horrendous year globally, perhaps your personal life is full of wounded-ness and loss. Maybe you don’t have any capacity left to think about the global pain and horror that is continually assaulting our fellow humans.
As Christians, we don’t have the luxury of ignoring the world. Jesus berated the Pharisees for tithing herbs while neglecting the weightier matters of justice and the love of God. We can’t focus on only tithing herbs, or doing our bit on Sunday mornings, or having an occasional quiet time, or trying to be a nice person. We must be sure to focus our hearts and minds on the weightier matters of justice and the love of God. What does that look like in Aleppo? In Yemen? For black people in America? For people from minority backgrounds across the UK? For parents of children affected by the Zika virus?
How do we make sense of the world as Christians, when the world is such a huge mess? And perhaps for some of us here, when our lives are a huge mess too?
As people living in the west, the narrative of our lives often resides in fairy tales and superhero movies. The superhero, with his enormous power, comes in and saves the day. Then they all live happily ever after. Amen.
That is not the Gospel. The reading from John tells us:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
Jesus is not a superhero. He is the God of all creation. He is the Word that brought life into being.
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
14 And 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.
Jesus did not use His great power to save us all into happily ever after. He gave up His great power and saved us by living among us, becoming one of us. Ours is not a narrative of happily ever after, but of a God who loves us enough to walk in our shoes, live our life, die instead of us. He was not celebrated or honoured, as this passage tells us. Instead, He was vilified, ignored and killed.
Verse 5 which I missed out before says,
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Jesus is the light of the world. And no matter what evil is perpetrated or what pain is endured, He remains the light of the world and the darkness will not be able to overcome Him.
Tomorrow we celebrate Jesus’ birth as a human baby. It is a day of celebrating life; Jesus’ life, family life, new life and our life in Christ. And hopefully it will be a positive day for each of us, no matter what trials we face personally, or as humans in a pain filled world.
Jesus didn’t stay as a human baby, He grew up and His life, death and resurrection are what will save us and will eventually transform our planet. Yet I am reminded of Teresa of Avila’s words, which are an instruction to us all:
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
We are Christ’s body and each of us are those who bring the light of Jesus to those we know, to our communities and to our world. And I will finish by reading words Jesus spoke to the disciples shortly before He died, later on in the book of John, in chapter 16:
20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy…
He goes on to say…
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”