David Blakely - Carol Service 2014
For many years in the latter part of the 20th century, the BBC used to
broadcast a Christmas service on Radio 3, which was also transmitted to Eastern
Europe and to what was then the USSR.
This service came from the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in London and was
usually conducted by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, a saintly man who died in
2003. In one of those broadcasts,
preaching in English as well as in Russian, he said this: “A baby was born in
Bethlehem, who was, with all the fullness and all the glory of the Godhead, God
himself come into the world.” Simple
words and yet profound. All I want to
do, in a few minutes, is to illustrate this truth from what we have heard in
the readings and from the carols we have sung.
1. Our first reading was from Isaiah in the Old Testament, where the birth of the Christ-child was foretold: “A child has been born for us – he is named Mighty God, Everlasting Father.” The birth of the baby in the manger was not unexpected – it was part of God’s plan for the world and for the people in it. As Wesley’s Advent hymn puts it – “Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free”, and then in verse 3, “Born a child and yet a King.”
2. And so we move towards the birth itself – we sang the carol “Silent Night”, which tells of the angels – “heavenly hosts sing alleluia”. Angels in the Bible come either singly, when there is a specific message to be given to someone, or in multitudes, when there is a general expression of praise to be sung. In Luke’s account we have both: one angel told the shepherds what had happened and then the whole multitude of angels sang “Glory to God in the highest heaven”. It’s not unlike that marvellous passage about creation in the book of Job, which speaks of the “morning stars singing together” and “the sons of God shouting for joy.” The birth of Jesus was as momentous an event as creation itself; and it needed the same sort of celebration. We could say that the angels represent the divine nature of the infant in the manger. The birth of the Son of God needed the whole force of heaven to be in attendance.
3. Then we sang the carol “While shepherds watched their flocks by night”. The birth of the Saviour was celebrated, not only by the heavenly beings – the angels – but also by human beings. The shepherds in the fields, bidden to go to Bethlehem to welcome the child in the manger, represent the whole human race. They were chosen – ordinary folk doing an ordinary job of work – they were chosen to greet the King of kings. Not the princes, not the rulers or the politicians, but the humble folk, were to go to Bethlehem to see the child who was to be the Messiah, the one whose coming was long-expected.
4. And then we heard Matthew’s account of the wise men being led by the star to Bethlehem. Communication in those days was slower than it is today – those coming from afar had to be summoned by supernatural means. We can imagine them being led across the desert on their camels, guided by the Star of Bethlehem; bringing with them their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The wise men represent those coming from the distant parts of the world to worship the Christ-child. The birth of Jesus happened at a particular time and place, but all people, at all times and from all places, are welcome to come to worship him.
So tonight, as once again we approach the Christmas festival, we too are bidden to come to Bethlehem to see the baby who has been born. But it is not a weak, helpless child that we have come to see. As another carol puts it, we are bidden to “Worship Christ, the new-born King”. For the baby is God himself, born into the world. As we worship the child in the manger, we are worshipping none other then Almighty God.
Our last reading was the prologue from John’s Gospel. Let me read again the last verse:
The Word became flesh, and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
God himself came into our world, born as a baby who grew up and lived on earth in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. Through him we see the glory and the splendour of Almighty God. Let us go with the shepherds and the wise men, and with millions of others throughout the ages, to worship the new-born King, to worship God himself.