Summary: Christmas teaches us several unusual things about Christianity.

You’ve already been welcomed, but I would like to welcome you again and thank you for sharing these very first moments of Christmas Day with me. Some of you, this will be the first time you’ve been in a church. An especial welcome to you. For many of you, you will over the years have been to many a Midnight Mass, as well coming to church for Christingles, carols services, Christenings and much more. We just can’t keep you away! Well, first timer or old hand, I’m glad to be able to welcome you here tonight. I want to thank you for not letting Christ get lost from Christmas.

Anyone here, ever been in a Nativity play? Have you got memories of your favourite time in a Nativity play? Who did you play? We’ve got a big crowd here today, so at least a few of you must played the Angel Gabriel. You Gabriels out there - what was your line? As you donned your white dressing gown, fairy wings, and tinsel halo and spoke to the shepherds with their t-towel headdresses, what was your line? Do you remember it? “Do not be afraid - I bring tidings of great joy”

It’s a line a six year can remember, but it’s why we are here tonight. It’s very simple, but that does not make it any less true. We are here because of the “tidings of great joy” - that a baby - not just any old baby, but the baby God himself, has been born in Bethlehem.

It’s why we are here. It is wonderful news. But it is not obvious to everyone.

For our Muslim neighbours and friends, the message of Christmas that you and I believe is very difficult. Allah is the great Sheikh in the sky, the eternal potentate who judges between right and wrong. Surely says the Muslim, you can’t humiliate God by putting him in a dung filled stable. Allah doesn’t get dirty, he is up on his throne on high and at the end of your life, he will count up the bad you’ve done and the good you’ve done, and if there is not more good it is thumbs down.

While our Christmas belief is that what shows God is love is that he does not stay up above, by coming to a stinking stable on earth, God shows how much you are worth, how precious you and I are to him. Rather than leaving us in the mistakes we have made in our life, he shows his love and comes down from above and rescues us from the all the bad things we have done in our lives. The Christmas message is “do not be afraid, I bring you tidings of great joy” - because Jesus had been born to rescue us from our wrong doings, to give us a second chance, a new start, however much we have messed up before hand.

There is a reason for example that in the centre of Ilford local Christians run without any government funding a drug rehabilitation project called Teen Challenge. If when our lives were in a mess, God didn’t give up on us and came and was born in a manger, then we should not give up on people when their lives are in a mess and they are addicted to drugs, alcohol or whatever. If God has been born to give us a second chance, then we should work to ensure other people get a second chance too.

If the message of Christmas is confusing to the Muslims we know, it is also confusing to our Jewish and Hindu neighbours and friends.

As our gospel said

“BUT to all who receive him, who believe on his name, he gave power to be called Children of God, born not of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” “To all who received him and believed on his name”

It’s a choice.

Nobody made you come here tonight. Nobody frog marched you into church at gunpoint. You made a choice.

For our Jewish or Hindu friends this makes no sense. whether you like it or not, if your dad’s a Hindu, if your mum’s Jewish, you’re Jewish. It’s not down to you, it’s down to ancestry. “Surely” they would say “changing your religion would be like trying to change who your mother is.”

But from the very beginning, christianity has been a religion of Choice. God was born not in palace in the Imperial capital where folks would have no choice but to follow him, but in an animal’s feeding trough in a little-known township on the edge of the empire. That sort of baby couldn’t make anybody follow him - it had to be a choice.

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