Summary: Carol Service sermon focussing on the disturbing ’bad news’ we prefer to leave out of our cosy Christmas celebrations.

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I wonder - have you ever thought how risky Christmas is?

It’s official. RoSPA - The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents - has issued regular warnings about a whole range of hazards just waiting to happen... all of them arising from what you thought were innocent, Christmas-related activities or accessories. On Christmas Day in 2003 more than 6,000 people were taken to hospital, and over the full 12 days of Christmas the number of casualties rose to more than 80,000.

But what can possibly go wrong? What on earth do people manage to do to turn delight into disaster, transforming celebrations into commiserations? Well, the most common accidents are:

People stabbing themselves with scissors while trying to wrap presents, or open them, too hastily.

Then there is a whole range of bruises and broken limbs resulting from children falling off their new bike or rocking horse.

And then a fascinating series of decoration-related accidents, from being stabbed by tree needles or holly, to falling while putting up Christmas cards. Even tinsel is not as harmless as it looks and last year it caused a good many trips and falls. And finally, Christmas tree lights accounted for more than 350 emergency admissions to hospital.

Just a few weeks ago a hospital in Birmingham was the news.

Do you remember the story of the babies Holly and Joseph - the twins abandoned outside the maternity unit at Birmingham’s Heartlands Hospital on a Tuesday morning early in December. It was a risky time for them. Their mother - rumoured to be an unmarried teenage girl - had wrapped them in a sleeping bag and laid them in a cardboard box for a bed. The senior midwife said they were in a stable condition.

And centuries before - the pregnancy of another unmarried teenage girl. A baby wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger for a bed. In a stable condition. But also a very risky time.

There are two episodes in the Christmas story that often get left to one side. We might enjoy our newspapers when they are full of scandal and disasters rather than brimming with good news, but when it comes to Christmas we tend to prefer it the other way round. Tell us the good parts - the ones that make us say "Oh bless" : the stories of shepherds and sheep, of wise men and Christmas presents, of babies and farmyard animals, stories of angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold. But please, leave out the risk. Leave out the disaster, the tragedy, and the heartache... in case it upsets our Christmas.

One tragic episode is the account of what Herod did next.

Every drama needs its villain, and King Herod fits the role perfectly. Historians tell us that Herod had a reputation for cloak-and-dagger politics. At the slightest sniff of a rebellion his opponents were put to the sword, and sometimes their families were killed as well. A hundred Jewish leaders were later killed in connection with his funeral. Herod was so paranoid about retaining his power, and so very aware that his own sons might want to take over his throne, that he had two of them - two of his own sons - put to death. The threat was removed.

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