Summary: Carol Service sermon focussing on the ’offensiveness’ of God’s Christmas present to us - the idea that we need ’saving’ from sin!

Someone sent me three facts that prove Jesus was a Mexican!

His first name was Jesus; he was bilingual, and he was always being harassed by the authorities. Then again, you can prove he was black - he called everybody "brother", he liked Gospel and he couldn’t get a fair trial. Or maybe he was Italian? - He talked with his hands, had wine with every meal, and worked in the building trade!

But the most compelling evidence of all is that Jesus was actually a woman. He had to feed a crowd at a moment’s notice when there was no food; He repeatedly tried to get his message across to a bunch of men who just didn’t get it; and even when he was dead he had to get up because there was more work for him to do!

Thankfully that was tongue-in cheek. But the Christmas TV interview on the streets of Tokyo was genuine. The interviewer stopped one woman out Christmas shopping and asked, "What is the meaning of Christmas?" Laughing, she replied, "I don’t know. Is that the day that Jesus died?"

And then there’s 9-year old Kristin

She was in the school dining hall when one of her curious friends asked her, "Are you a virgin?" Well, Kristin was really on the spot because she did not know what a virgin was. But she did some quick thinking that went like this: The only virgin she had heard of was Mary, and everyone knows that Mary had a baby. Therefore, a virgin must be a woman who has had a baby.

Armed with this conclusion, Kristin announced loudly, "No! I am not a virgin!" As several people nearby registered their shock, one boy leaned over and whispered in her ear: "Kristin, I don’t think you know what you are talking about!"

The angelic messengers from God...

They did know what they were talking about to the shepherds. And it causes us a dilemma. We don’t like the implications behind what they say. "Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth." Well, that’s OK, and we’re happy for it on the cards. But it’s the Readers Digest version. Here it is in full:

"Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men on whom his favour rests." ...or, in another English translation: "peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased."

So there are people with whom he is not pleased, people on whom his favour does not rest. Is it because receiving God’s peace is tied up with the child who was born to be called "Prince of Peace", who said to his followers; "Peace I give you" ?

Of course, you might not have realised that if you’d lived in Luton. Luton Council have removed all references to Christmas from its seasonal festival. They want to broaden its cultural appeal. Instead of having Christmas lights, the council are using "luminos" - a word taken from the Harry Potter books.

The angelic messengers from God...

They knew what they were talking about to Joseph as well. "Mary will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus." That’s nice. Sounds like the Christmas we’re used to. And the full, uncut version? That goes on to say " him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

Woah! That’s a bit steep!

So it’s Christmas Day. You’re handed a beautifully wrapped present. You unwrap it carefully. The good news is - it’s a gift voucher for £350. The bad news is - it’s a gift voucher for a Harley Street Plastic Surgeon. Congratulations! You’ve got £350 towards having excess cellulite removed. Is that a hint?!

Don’t laugh - this was a Radio 5 interview last week with the Practice Manager from the surgery involved. The gift vouchers are real! "Here you are darling - I thought you’d look better with a nose job!"

Wouldn’t you feel offended?!

Don’t you feel offended by God’s Christmas present for you?

"Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Maybe we don’t need our face surgically rearranged, our lips inflated, or our chest upgraded a few sizes. But God’s angle is that we do need our sin dealing with. I wonder if God knows what He’s talking about? "This child, Jesus, is my Christmas present for each and every person in the world. He will save you from your sin."

"Well," comes our reply, "other people might need their sin dealing with. But me? I’m OK. I’m not too bad."

And dare I say that we point, with a sense of relief, at hijacked American aeroplanes, Palestinian suicide bombers, paedophile murder cases. Or at cases of adultery and Presidential perjury, at fraud, greed and racially motivated assaults. We label those things "sin" - and we’re absolutely right when we do that - we label them "sin" and then we hide behind them.

"I’m not that bad... so I must be OK as far as God is concerned."

But we miss the point.

So let’s read the letters column in The Times.

’Sir: Failing to find any religious books in the bookshop, I asked an assistant for help. She showed me an inconspicuous handful of Bibles and prayer books, saying: "We had to move them down to the bottom shelf because of Christmas."’

The point is that most of the time God is lucky if he even makes it onto the bottom shelf in people’s lives. Most of the time he’s out of the equation altogether.

This is what the Bible means by sin, and this is the point of Christmas. Jesus came to save us, to rescue us, from God-less living. To save us from a life that has no room for God.

I guess everybody here has probably heard of the Ten Commandments - not the film, but the chapter in the book. Maybe we couldn’t list them all by heart, but they’re kind of vaguely familiar anyway. Let’s turn the spotlight onto Jesus. He’s in the Mastermind black leather chair. It’s his chosen subject. Your time starts

"What is the greatest commandment?" "The greatest commandment is: ’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.’" "Correct."

OK - we’ll pause the video there. The most important commandment given by God - love Him, totally, with the whole of our life. Do we? Do you? [pause]

I don’t expect you to be persuaded.

I do want to provoke your thinking. I want you to go out from here willing to ask yourself some honest questions. And I hope you’ll give yourself some honest answers!

Is it possible that there’s more to Christmas than just an excuse for a party? Is it possible that life with Jesus in the centre is what it’s meant to be like? "Peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased" - does that include you? "...Name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Do you want to find out what the rescue plan is about?

Where are you going to look to find some answers?