Summary: A short sermon for Christmas Day
“So here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun look to the future now, it’s only just begun”. Everyone at some point in their lives will have heard those lyrics sung by the glam rock band, Slade. The record reached number one in the Pop charts in December 1973 and stayed there until the middle of February 1974 and is still one of the most played secular Christmas songs of all time. In its own way it encapsulates the excitement that surrounds the festive season and yet, as popular as the song is, nowhere in the lyrics does it mention the reason for those festivities.
In my mind’s eye I can visualise the angels singing a version of that song on that day over two thousand years ago “So here he is Merry Christmas, to Bethlehem just run, mankind has a future now and today it’s just begun”
The words would have spoken of a bright new hope “Here he is Merry Christmas” not simply wishing a merry Christmas but a proclamation of the moment of moments, the time when time itself met eternity, when history paused for breath and the fallen world turned to begin its slow climb back to salvation.
The fifth candle which we lit earlier on our advent wreath is for the Christ child, it is the central candle in the wreath just as the figurine of the Christ child is central to our crib scene.
The life of any new born baby is frighteningly fragile; the baby Jesus lies in his manger at the centre of our crib scene, dwarfed by the adults around him. He is utterly dependent on them but just look how he captivates their gaze. His powerlessness has the power to unlock and elicit love from even the hardest of hearts.
Christ’s gift to us at Christmas is one of love, a love that goes beyond our normal love giving, the willing unlocking of our own hearts, offering affection, preferring the other. This is also God’s love for us but his love goes deeper. The helpless child at this early stage does not so much offer let alone understand its own love; yet it elicits ours. God not only gives us his own love, he gives us our ability to love, love itself, so that we can become as he is.
The Nativity or Crib scene is reputed to have been invented by St Francis of Assisi in 1229, his was not the small scene that we have here but was in fact a life size reconstruction in which he used a live ox and ass. When Francis built the first crib at Greccio, Mass was said over the manger and in paintings which came afterwards, the manger can often take on the form of an altar. A close connection is made between Christ’s self offering in birth and his self offering on the cross, a gift of love which spends itself for the beloved. In Love’s endeavour, love’s expense, W. H. Vanstone wrote “Drained is love in making full; Bound in setting others free; Poor in making many rich; Weak in giving power to be.”
I said that the hardest of hearts can be unlocked before such love, sadly that’s not always the case. We are living in a very dark world where God and the good are rejected and the true message of Christmas has been lost. Many see this time of year as an excuse to indulge in the excesses of greed, many see this time of year as an excuse for exploiting others with over inflated prices to enlarge their own bank balances. Those that are exploited see this time of year only for debts they incur and will have to pay off over the coming year. Many view the preparations, the trundling around shops and the inevitable queues in the weeks and days leading up to Christmas as a lot of hard work for one day.