Vicar’s Sermon – Christmas Day 2019

For a child has been born for us. A son given to us:…He is named ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’

Who would have thought the birth of a child would change everything? But there it is. Isaiah: writing as his nation collapses and looks to be overrun by her enemies. Isaiah: whose hearers will witness the destruction of everything, just everything that they have known and loved. Isaiah: who will speak of death in the streets, of warfare, famine, disease and captivity for the lucky ones (who will be forced to work as slaves in a country far from home). Isaiah is the one who speaks of the birth of a child who will bring Hope. And, as we all know, Hope is a precious, precious thing.

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’. More than this, that light has sought them out and shone upon them. A people who were lost. People stumbling around in the fog not knowing which way to turn have been found by this light that shines on them. Why? Because a child has been born. Not enough for Isaiah to present an image of people seeing a city on a hill, the lights of ‘home’. No. In the darkness someone has come to them, a light has reached out to them to call them home.

Everything changes. There is Joy. Exuberant joy. Like the joy of a community knowing that it has brought in the Harvest. A peasant community (presumably) knowing that it can survive at least for another year because the barns are full, there is enough, there is food to eat and plenty to drink. Joy with real depth.

One image piled on top of the other, try another image…. Joy as of those who have won a great battle, who have come through a conflict, a trial but been victorious. Picture the outpouring of joy on the streets at the end of the 2nd World War…picture the joy of the Iron curtain coming down: this kind of joy. A difficult image until we read the verse that speaks of the yoke of oppression being broken, the bar across the people’s shoulders removed, the rod (that has been used to beat down any resistance) taken away. There must be millions who might hear this news as good news. Lift your imagination out of this church and your family Christmas and let it wander to places in the world where oppression is real. We know of modern-day slavery. We know of sexual violence against women and girls in India: the accounts of such violence in recent weeks have been stomach churning. We know that there are children who work longer hours than many an adult in the west making our clothing. We know that communities live with pollution and disease and corruption and gang warfare and drugs and poverty. And the law is powerless or held captive by big money and year after year nothing changes.

Or, if you can’t take your imagination to these places then stay closer to home and think of those who struggle to find a way out of the dark places that life has led them into. Illness from nowhere bringing challenges to our health that are lifechanging. Bereavement: There are so many cards hung on the trees of remembrance in this church: each one bearing witness to a loss, a wound that can never truly be healed. Think of the sheer numbers of young people applying for counselling to address mental health problems or parents juggling zero hours contracts with child care costs to meet, high rents and poor accommodation. There are people we know who carry a heavy load, who are worn down by the demands made upon them who see no way forward, no light at the end of the tunnel. People hide their problems. In some parts of the country the burdens folk carry are clear, they are obvious. Not necessarily so in this part of the world with its strong traditions of self-sufficiency, getting by, managing, not wanting to be a burden on anyone. We think we know one another but we rarely show what we are feeling ‘deep down’.

And the child is born.

The journalist and TV presenter Malcolm Muggeridge wrote

It is precisely when every earthly hope has been explored and found wanting, when every possibility of help from earthly sources has been sought and is not forthcoming, when every recourse this world offers, moral as well as material, has been drawn on and expended with no effect, when in the shivering cold every log has been thrown on the fire, and in the gathering darkness every glimmer of light has finally flickered out—it is then that Christ’s hand reaches out, sure and firm, that Christ’s words bring their inexpressible comfort, that his light shines brightest, abolishing the darkness for ever.

That’s it. That’s what Isaiah bears witness to in this prophecy. That some one will come. Not a thought or an idea, not a philosophy or manifesto but a person, a child, will come to us and everything will be changed. Picture the person sat on their own this day who hears a friendly word outside and the doorbell ringing: a friend, a neighbour, Love that is real, down to earth, practical: love must be incarnate.

Someone comes and everything changes. This little child’s coming has raised up Empires and laid low tyrants. This child has spoken truth to power and lifted up the humble and the meek. This child has inspired acts of great courage and self-sacrifice and caused the Herod’s of the world to be filled with fear. He has brought strength to those who have known only their weakness, he has brought comfort to those who mourn and He has walked alongside the dying. This day he will be worshipped in every language and every country on the earth. His name will be shouted and sung and whispered by Christian people in churches and community halls and prisons and night shelters and Cathedrals and high rise flats and shanty towns and refugee camps and detention centres and hospitals and refuges for women and children and care homes and hospices and here….in this place where we again acknowledge the presence of the one who always and forever brings a new creation to birth: the child of Bethlehem. Jesus. Our Lord.

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