Summary: Carol Service sermon focussing on the search by the Magi and encouraging people to join in that search.
Some of the questions people ask about pregnancy - and answers !
Should I have a baby after 35? (No, 35 children is enough.)
How will I know if my vomiting is morning sickness or the flu? (If it’s the flu, you’ll get better.)
What is the most reliable method to determine a baby’s sex? (Childbirth.)
What does it mean when a baby is born with teeth? (It means that the mother may want to rethink her plans for breast-feeding.)
Do I have to have a baby shower? (No, not if you change the baby’s nappy very quickly.)
But one of my favourite baby stories is about a little girl called Sarah. Who, when asked what she wanted for Christmas, said she would like to have a baby brother. Mum and Dad smiled, knowingly, and within a few days of Christmas, little Michael was born.
A year later it’s the same question, "What would you like for Christmas?" And Sarah, very sweetly, said, "If it’s not too much trouble for Mummy, I’d like to have a pony." It brings tears to your eyes!
The reality is that Christmas does bring tears to your eyes.
This is the busiest time of year for the Samaritans. More pedestrians are killed on our roads in December than in any other month. 20% of people over the age of 65 will experience real, heart-breaking loneliness this holiday, and a National Opinion Poll survey found that 6 in every 10 people find Christmas is stressful or depressing. On average we spend about £800 each on Christmas celebrations, and the average UK debt per adult is around £3,500 - which does not include mortgages!
There is just so much truth in this piece by Newspaper Columnist Bernard Levin:
"Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together with such non-material blessings as a happy family, and yet live lives of quiet, and sometimes noisy, desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many motor cars and televisions they stuff it with, however many well balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edge of it... it aches."
Sounds as if we’ve missed the plot.
Earlier this year, in a Daily Mail article, Susan Elkin looked back over 30 years of teaching English in schools. She said:
"At this time of year I often look at Milton’s beautiful poem ’On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity’... with its "star-led wizards haste with odours sweet" and the shepherds who "sat simply chatting in a rustic row". But it gets ever more difficult because pupils now simply don’t have the basic background knowledge. Many of them haven’t got a clue what Milton is talking about.
No-longer do most school children know anything much about the Judaic and Christian scriptures which underpin so much of what we are and do. If you have to begin the lesson - even with sixth-formers sometimes - by explaining who the shepherds are and what the wise men did, it becomes so laboured as to seem pointless."
So have we missed the plot? Are we losing sight of the big picture, and forgetting how Christmas fits into it? Not just the nostalgic candle-lit carol services, great food, presents and the chance for a good party. But the account of goodness corrupted by evil; of significance, purpose, love, sacrifice and reconciliation; of destiny, eternity and accountability; of life, death and hope.
Readings have touched on parts of the plot, but allow me to recap:
Christianity begins with God, who is the cause of all creation and who loves us and wants the very best for our lives. A God who made us to enjoy friendship with Him, and who has never stopped loving us.
Alongside this is a picture of mankind that is less than flattering, for people turned their backs on God, poured scorn on His wisdom and rebelled against His commands. The friendship was destroyed, and mankind was, in inverted commas, "liberated" to enjoy a Godless existence. We have turned our backs on Him, choosing to leave God out of the story. The consequences are all around us.
We try to exclude God from every corner of life: from morality, business, politics and education... and then we are surprised by the self-centred, sometimes aggressive, abusive, obscene and violent behaviour that emerges. Or we recognise that Bernard Levin’s "hole" is definitely there inside of us, we feel the ache, and we wonder what’s missing...?
Against this background of God’s love and mankind’s rejection a new picture emerges in the foreground. We see God’s relentless quest to restore the friendship, and His promise that somehow a way will be found to heal the wounds, bridge the gulf and pay the price. His promise that rebellion will be replaced by reconciliation, and anarchy give way to a new ruler over our lives. That "a child is born to us, a son is given to us, and the government is on his shoulders."