Summary: A sermon about taking Jesus to the party, and why God loves you enough to be born as a baby
One little known fact about Father Christmas - and I am not making this up - is that in the year 325AD he punched someone in the face. I am sure he was very sorry about it afterwards. It certainly flies in the face of Jesus’s teaching about loving your enemies.
Father Christmas is best known for the giving of gifts - beginning with three gifts he gave to very poor girls - three daughters whose family had gone bankrupt and were about to be sold into slavery. And in the middle of the night Father Christmas crept to their house and tossed in three bags of gold, one for each girl. The stories differ - some say he climbed onto the rood and chucked the bags down the chimney - and even according to one version, the girls had just washed their stockings and had hung them up to dry over the fire and the bags fell down and fell into the stockings. Another version says he threw the bags on the day the girls came of each - and after the second occasion, the father waited up to see who would do it and “caught” Father Christmas delivering the third present - never a good thing waiting up to see if Father Christmas delivers you presents.
Father Christmas is most associated with giving presents - presents that remind us of the ultimate present - God’s gift to us of himself in the form of the baby Jesus “the exact imprint of the Father’s being” - “God the only Son”
So however bad a deed it might be - what would provoke Father Christmas to punch someone in the face?
Another question we might ask (and they are linked) is why we are celebrating Jesus’s birthday on the same day as what used to be a pagan festival?
There are plenty who would criticise us for celebrating Jesus’s birth on 25 December. There are even groups - both slightly weird Christian groups and also non-Christian groups like the Jehovah’s witnesses who would claim that the fact you ate a mince pie or gave me a present today makes you a crypto pagan. Which is to miss the whole point of what John Chapter one is saying.
You probably all know that the Queen celebrates her birthday on a day when she was not actually born. And it’s the same with Jesus. If you want to know when Jesus was actually born you’ll have to ask his mum because no one else knows. We haven’t a clue what month Jesus was born in and neither did the earliest Christians.
“In the beginning was the Word. The word was with God and the word was God… and the Word became flesh and lived among us”
The God - the one through whom all things came into being and without whom nothing came into being - that God would become a human being to save us - that was significant. Early Christians wanted to celebrate that. They didn’t have a clue when Jesus was born but they wanted a day to remember Jesus becoming a human being. What should they do? Perhaps they should take out their diaries and randomly flick through and pick 23rd June, 19 March, 8 August…. No. They didn’t do that. Instead - they read their bibles. What would Jesus do?
In John Chapter 1 we read - The Word became Flesh, and lived among us - or more accurately “the word became flesh and pitched his tent among us”. Just as in the Old Testament when the Children of Israel wandered through the desert, God travelled with them in the arc of the covenant in a special, so in Jesus God pitches his tent amidst our tents and travels with us as we journey through life. God gets involved in our mess.
Jesus could have been born in a nice holy place like the Temple. Instead he is born in a stable, surrounded by animals. A pong smelly stable. When he is less than two years old, his family will flee as assylum seekers to Egypt. And when he grows up does he stick to holy places doing holy things? No. His first miracle is when he gets invited to some friends wedding, and much of his teaching happens at parties- not parties he has thrown, but parties he has been invited to. The story of Jesus is God getting involved in our existing lives. “the word became flesh and pitched his tent among us”
So the early Christians wanted a day to celebrate God’s birth as a human baby. What would Jesus do? Well Jesus went to people’s parties and while everyone was having fun, he told them about God. “So” said the early Christians - “When are people having a party? - That’s easy: December.” Every culture, every religion in the Roman Empire, had a party in December. Why? Because December’s cold, it’s miserable, it’s horrible. Let’s have a party to cheer ourselves up. So everyone had a party in December. “Right,” said the early Christians “What would Jesus do? He’d go to that party”. So the early Christians picked one of those days - 25 December, and made it the day when they celebrated Jesus’s birth. And when their friends saw them having fun they’d ask “hey - why are you singing songs about Jesus rather than about Dionysius or Mithras” And as they shared good food with them, they would be able to tell them the wonderful story about how God loved them.