Summary: Carol Service sermon asking what impact the Christmas Baby actually has on our lives.

I wonder if you have finished your Christmas shopping yet?

I’ve found it fascinating looking to see what "religious" gifts are available. What can you get for that special person which honours the fact that this is, actually, Christmas?

What about a Bobble-Head Jesus, specially made to stand on the back shelf of your car, his head nodding serenely and his arms outstretched to bless. Yours for just £17.50. Or maybe the boy in your life would appreciate a Talking Christmas Action Figure. A 12" high Jesus doll with a silicone chip so that he can speak the Ten Commandments (with an American film accent) $34.95 for that one. For the slightly younger ones, what about a "Holy Trinity 3-pak Lego set" - Father, Son and Holy Ghost (although it looks a lot like Caspar the ghost, actually!) And for the babies, a Genesis Teether - $4.49 a chewy rubber ring with the name "Jesus" in the centre.

Know someone who’s trying to kick the smoking habit? Then what about Jesus Ashtray? For just $12, made of glass, with a picture of Jesus in the bowl and inscribed with the words "Jesus hates it when you smoke."

Or perhaps your friend is the more active type? Buy them a "Frisbee of Faith" for a mere $2.20 - a great way to share the Good News about Jesus, because it’s got the Parable of the Lost Son in small print on the underside, together with an explanation of what it means to become a Christian.

And to cap it all - a priceless gift from the Czech Republic (priceless as in: no price given on the internet brochure). For the high-fliers and those who are going up in the world, what about a custom-built hot air balloon in the shape of a Cathedral, 45m long and 30m to the top of the spires.

Who knows what you’ll find in your stocking on Christmas Day!?

Who knows what the Wise Men expected to find?

Of course, while we try to find gifts for a person, they were seeking a person for whom they had already the gifts. And they said they were seeking the one born to be King. But Kings show up in unexpected places.

There is a Russian legend of a medieval prince, Alexis, who lived in his beautiful palace while all around peasants lived in filthy hovels. The prince was moved by their desperate situation and wanted to help them. He visited the peasants, and they respected him as a royal visitor. But he never really won their confidence and affection.

One day strange man came among them, a very rough-and-ready young doctor. He rented a filthy rat-ridden shack in one of their back streets. He wore the plainest of clothes, gave medical treatment free of charge and gave away his medicines. The doctor won the peasants’ respect and affection in a way that Prince Alexis had never done.

No one ever guessed that this young doctor was in fact the Prince himself, who had abandoned the splendour of his palace and gone down among his people to become one of them.

No one expected that God himself would abandon the splendour of heaven and come down among his people to become one of us.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see!

Hail, the incarnate Deity!

Pleased as man with man to dwell,

Jesus, our Immanuel.

Jesus - God with skin on. God dwelling among us. God in close-up.

....? and we think it’s just a sweet story about a baby and some cuddly cows?

Babies can easily be overlooked!

Go back to 1809. Europe was in the middle of the great Napoleonic Wars. France, Britain, Spain, Prussia were battling it out on land and sea in a conflict of political ideology, military might and plain nationalistic greed. Everybody’s attention was fixed on the great battles.

That year saw the birth of future heroes. British reformer William Gladstone was born in Liverpool; Poet Lord Tennyson was born in Somersby; in Kentucky, President Abraham Lincoln was born. And Hamburg saw the birth of composer Felix Mendelssohn! Look back over 2 centuries and ask, "Which was the more important, the battles or the babies of 1809?" Those babies had phenomenal impact.

20 centuries ago people were in rebellion. Israel was scarred by poverty, disease, slavery, prejudice, tyranny, riots, demonstrations, crime, hate and social injustice. In the midst of it all, a baby was born. A baby who had phenomenal impact. God came among us.

A woman was out Christmas shopping with her two children.

After many hours of looking at row after row of toys and everything else imaginable, and hours of hearing both the children asking for everything they saw on every shelf she finally made it to the lift. She was feeling what so many of us feel in the run-up to Christmas - under pressure to go to every party, find that perfect gift for every single person on our shopping list, make sure we don’t forget anyone on our card list ...and then making sure we respond to everyone who sent us a card.

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