Summary: Carol Service sermon looking at responses to Jesus - Herod’s fear and the Magi’s faith.
According to the Daily Mail, being here is good for you!
In a section entitled "Making the most of your life" the Mail gave 12 reasons as to why this special time can be good for you and why you should rejoice on Christmas Day, one of which was ’Carol Singing’
It stirs the soul and takes us back to those special childhood Christmases. A dose of spirituality can’t fail to banish the feeling that Christmas is too commercial. Singing carols at the top of your voice and feeling part of an age-old tradition is bound to bring about feelings of warmth and security. You will be taking deep breaths while you sing, which is relaxing, and that spine-tingling feeling as the choir reaches full flow is a sign that the body is releasing endorphins – the natural ’feel-good’ drug. If you can’t go to church, make sure the children are in bed, dim the lights and watch the service on TV.
Whether it feels so good for Santa is another matter entirely. The Salvation Army’s War Cry quotes these letters from slightly dissatisfied and anxious customers:-
’Hi Santa! Our fireplace is blocked up so please don’t use the chimney. I will ask Mum to leave the door open instead.’ Yours Charlotte
’Dear Santa. You seemed to have trouble getting my bike and tractor last year. Have you tried Yellow Pages?’ Love Ben
’Dear Santa. Last year I got a sister instead of a bike. Maybe some other boy wanted a sister and got my bike. We have kept the sister but I still want a bike.’ Love Sam
All of which leaves you wondering quite what Christmas is about. In a survey carried out by the National Consumer Council, when people were asked to state three things Christmas meant to them, 66% failed to mention religion or Christ’s birth. That’s two-thirds of the people who made no immediate connection between Christ and Christmas.
The fact that you are here shows you fall in the other 33%!
You recognise that celebrating Christmas has, at least, something to do with promises made long ago in the Bible. With a girl called Mary, and visits by an angel; a census, and a long journey to be registered in the right place. Something to do with inns being full, and shepherds and more angels. Tales of Oriental star-gazers travelling for weeks because there were repeated occlusions of the moon and Saturn in the constellation they associated with Judaism.
Of course, the account of the wise men leads onto their meeting with Herod. A meeting with gruesome consequences as Herod, outwitted by the wise men (with a little help from a passing guardian angel!) takes extreme measures. Since he can’t find the infant Jesus, he kills all the boys under two years old, just to be on the safe side.
We don’t usually read that part of the story. It jars. It goes against our ideas of what Christmas is about. It grates against the cosy atmosphere of the rest of the story.
We included it today, not just because it is part of the whole story...
...but also because Herod was doing what many people still do. He was trying to avoid the difficult questions raised by Jesus.
Herod was not ignorant. He was not among the 66% who didn’t see that Christmas had something to do with Jesus. He’s got more in common with the other 1/3... the ones here. The ones who do have an idea what it’s about. He heard the wise men’s story. He heard them speaking about a child born to reign.
"Where is the child born to be king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
And because he felt threatened... because he didn’t want someone else being king... because he wanted to be in control, rather than Jesus being lord of all. Because he wants to be number one, he takes terrible, drastic action. What Herod sees in this child is a threat to be resisted.
Many still feel the same way. Not usually so drastically. But the resistance to Jesus is all around.
This Christmas the churches in Plymouth have supported an amazing Millennium Book Project. A Gallup poll asking people’s views on the Millennium and its meaning discovered that fewer than one in six connected the year 2000 with Jesus Christ. Only 15% made the link between the date and the birth of Christ. So to help make the connection, the churches are giving a special book as a gift to every primary school aged child in Plymouth. The resistance to Jesus shows when a parent tears up their child’s book, or when a school refuses to let these gifts be given.
The resistance shows when radio stations ban a musical version of the Lord’s Prayer from their play-list... even though it was the best-selling song in the charts. And it shows in the harsh and critical comments made by members of the media and music industry.