Revd Rebecca Newland
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—25 December 2012
The story of Christmas is one that has been told over and over again. It has also had layers and layers added to it. Did you know there is no innkeeper in the Bible account of that first Christmas? There were also no animals. We don't even know whether the baby was born at night. Jesus could have been born in the late afternoon and the shepherds come in the night-time, once they had had the visit from the angel of the God. There is certainly no mention of Three kings visiting—they were probably a group or perhaps a couple of astrologers. There isn't even a donkey for Mary to travel upon. She might have trudged on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Layers and layers are added to the story.
There are so many layers added to the story in our day, that even the mythical donkey, along with the rest of the story fact or fiction, is obscured—by tinsel, shopping sprees, family celebrations, mad traffic and wrapping paper. So many layers that the heart of Christmas is now completely lost in many places and completely misunderstood in others.
And we are all so worried about offending other faiths and races that we wish people a Happy Holiday instead of a Merry Christmas—except they probably think the season is about reindeers with red noses and large fat men in red suits and bushy beards—oh, and lots and lots of presents. So the words 'Merry Christmas' have about as much Christian meaning as the golden arches of McDonald's.
It is not that we humans are stupid (well not necessarily so). It is not that we wilfully cover up the story—unless we are militant atheists who want all religion dead and buried. I think all these layers we have added in our lives are signs of deep longing.
There are so many things we long for. Just recently at the nursing home service that deacon Robin Moore and I do once a week, one of the residents asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I surprised myself when I said, "World Peace". I sounded like one of those Miss World contestants. But it was true. I would give up every present I have ever received and would ever receive for world peace—wouldn't we all? I would give up all those presents and everything else if doing so could have prevented the murder of those children in Newtown Connecticut—wouldn't we all?
We long for peace. We long for justice. We long for relationships that are wholesome and good. We long for safe streets at night, a fair and just sharing of the Earth's goods, for people to be treated with dignity and compassion; we long for an environment that flourishes. We long for safe land we can call home and where we can build a new life free from corrupt governments and oppression. We long for a political system that is beyond the grab for power and the partisan mess. We long for time with family and friends that is easy and stress free. We long for the love of our lives to turn up or come back.
And then there are all those other things we long for—mini ipads, new cars, that piece of lemon meringue pie, that bottle of expensive red wine and that blissful veg-out in front of the tele.
Our hearts ache with longing and we look in all sorts of places for it to be filled and satisfied. At times there appears to be an immense emptiness in our hearts that in the end cannot be satisfied or filled by all our material possessions, exotic holidays, love affairs and entertainments.
The actual message of Christmas is that our longing is over. Right there, buried under the layers, the simple message that what we mostly deeply long for is here with us. Right here, right now. God is with us as the incarnate creator of all, lover of all, sustainer of all. As a little, tiny, fragile, weak human beings, God is with us.
And this little baby will grow to be full of grace and truth. The baby will grow up and become the teacher and leader who shows us all how to live and work for justice and peace. He will show us the path that leads to the fulfilment of our hopes and dreams for truth, goodness and beauty.
He will say, follow me.
He will say, if you want to save your life you must loose it;
if you say you love me then you must love as I have loved you.
He will say, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you;
do not judge, do not be hypocrites, put others before yourself.
He will say, seek first the Kingdom of God, that is the way and shalom of God, and you will have everything you need.
He will teach mercy, compassion and forgiveness—over and over again—with every word, miracle and action.
In this Jesus the Christ, we see the glory of God. The glory of a God who gives up all power and might to be with us, to journey with us, to die for us and forgive us. Each time we meet around this table, this altar, we remember this extraordinary gift. As we share in the bread and the wine we are reminded that we are one—united through the power of God's Spirit and love—at one with God, united to each other and the fruit of the earth. In and through Christ is the peace that passes all understanding. In this Christmas season, one of the names of Jesus the Christ is the Prince of Peace.
All we long for then—those deep desires for freedom, justice and true peace—is now made possible. But they only become possible as we begin to walk in the footsteps of this God, this Word made flesh. We do our part by making our lives a mirror image of Christ—by desiring what he desires, by longing for what he longs for, by loving as he loves, by putting our relationship with God first, just as he did.
I cannot convince you of any of this. To know this truth, we each one of us must choose it and walk it ourselves.
And so my prayer and hope for us all in this Christmas season and the year ahead is that we will all find our deepest longings beginning to be met as we dig down through the layers of desire and story and commit ourselves to walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Dig deep this coming year and ground yourselves in the God who is with us, each moment of every day.