Feast of Christmas 2012 – Sermon
Those of you who have access to computers, and who are interested in what is going on in the Anglican Communion throughout the world at this time, will realise that we are in a time of great flux. All sorts of different ideas are being contested which challenge our preconceived ideas of what it is to be a follower of Jesus Christ in a world beset with ethnic, tribal and religious conflict; and at a time when economic and social stability is under threat – from natural and humanly-contrived disasters and strife.
In the midst of all of this, we are bidden, by the message of the Gospel, to recollect the great and mysterious wonder of the Incarnation – the enfleshing of God in human form – in the person and being of the Child of Bethlehem – a name meaning ‘House of Bread’ – a place still existing today, in a country and a situation where Jews, Christians and Muslim s are striving to maintain their separate identities as ‘Children of God’ and bearers of the divine Image and likeness.
How, then, do we adequately deal with the reality that exists – not only in Bethlehem, of both Palestine and Judaea – but also in other villages, towns, cities and countries of the world where the epic intervention of God in all creation at the Birth of Jesus seems hardly to have had any effect at all on the behaviour and belief of their inhabitants? What is it about the Christmas story today that holds out any hope of the redemption of the world as we have received it in the stories of the Old Testament, and the revelation of the Gospel in the New?
What is it about the simple story of Mary and Joseph, of the Shepherds and the Kings, that moves us to take another look at what might be possible in our world, if only we were able to figure out how to deal with man’s inhumanity to man, and how to right the obvious wrongs and injustices that have been done and are still being done? It is because of our deep human need to be recognised by other people as worthy of loving and being loved – by our Creator and by other significant people in our lives.
At Christmas, It is as though the values of the world have been turned upside-down and we have to turn aside from our relentless pursuit of what we think is best for us – in order to consider what really might be best for other people. In fact, we may discover that – instead of looking after our own interests and what satisfies us – we might find a better, more satisfying, fulfilment in seeking the good of others – sometimes at the expense of our own good. All too often the temptation is to look after our own interests – forgetting that what is best for the whole community may be, in the long run, not only best for the world but for us as well.
In this way, we begin to understand that – in the situation of Israel and Palestine – the two distinct religious tribes of Jews and Muslims – both direct descendants of the great Prophet Abraham – if only they recognised their common inheritance of their relationship to the One True God Whom they both worship – agreeing to share their common homeland – there could be an immediate settlement of, not only Jews and Arabs, but also Christians in the Land that God gave to their common ancestors. And what better common denominator of their newly-discovered relationship could there be than a recognition of the Son of God, whose arrival in the stable at Bethlehem was meant to herald the reign of the Prince of Peace.
For that is Who it was that was sent from God’s Eternal Home, to take upon Himself the form of a slave, to become vulnerable in all respects to human frailty as we are. The child of a simple peasant girl, born of the Holy Spirit and protected by God’s faithful servant Joseph the Carpenter of Nazareth. This Jesus, Child of the Manger, no stranger to our common human condition; but given to all humanity as the sign of God’s generosity and Love for all humankind. Flesh of our flesh, yet bearer of God’s divine nature, Jesus still offers our only hope of Peace in a world divided and tarnished by selfishness, self-interest and self righteousness.
It is only as we humbly and thankfully surrender our inability to please God – except through our surrender to His loving-kindness and mercy – that we begin to understand our utter dependence upon Him for that forgiveness that we all so desperately need, in order to gain access to the grace that only God can provide for us to cope with the trials and difficulties that are part and parcel of our journey through this world,. As we ponder upon the poverty and humility of Christ’s coming to us in the manger of Bethlehem – brought about through the willing obedience of Mary and Joseph to God’s plan for their lives – we are given a precious insight into the blessings that can be ours – if only we submit our lives, all that we have and are and hope to be, to the Lordship and service of Christ in His ministry to other people.
Christ’s greatest gift to us is the Gift of Himself in the Eucharist. It is in this offering of Himself that we receive the divinity of Jesus. Through the simple act of partaking in the Sacred Mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood we are renewed, revitalised and reformed into the Body of Christ for the sake of the world which He redeemed.
“Never was God so great, as when He became so small”.
The very word ‘Eucharist’ – in Greek, Efkaristo – means, literally, ‘Thank-you’. And so today we give Thanks to God for his unspeakable Gift of our Saviour and Redeemer! It is as though, in celebrating The Eucharist together, we are continually thanking God in the best way possible.
‘The Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us!”
Let us bless the Lord! Thanks be to God!