Vicar's Sermon - Carol Service 2016
Who is He? And Who am I?
According to the web site WhyChristmas.com a Jesse tree is an ancient mediaeval picture used to tell the Bible story from Creation through to the birth of Christ. You, being an educated bunch, knew this.
You find Jesse trees in books. You find them most famously in stained glass windows in our great Cathedral churches. The stories from the bible are all represented in minute detail often in windows that only the most hawk-eyed of people might see from ground level. The creation. The creation of Adam and Eve. The story of the Fall. The expulsion of the first couple from the Garden of Eden. The murder of Abel by his brother Cain…on, on the story goes. You might see in your mind’s eye images of the Tower of Babel, Noah and his ark. The call of Abram, the sacrifice of Isaac.
As we move out of the book of Genesis we wave farewell to Joseph and His brothers and are introduced to Moses in the bulrushes. Before long we are out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, the Law is given on Sinai, but the people (seduced by the Golden Calf) are condemned to wander in the desert (led by a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day).
Jericho falls. Joshua is triumphant, Samson and Deborah judge Israel. Samuel is persuaded, under God to find Israel its first King. Saul is unfaithful and the search is on to find a replacement and then, at Bethlehem, Jesse introduces his sons to the old prophet Samuel one by one and the youngest is anointed as Saul’s successor: David. And God makes a promise, a promise that He will keep even though Israel proves faithless, abandons her covenant with Him and is dragged off into exile by the waters of Babylon (where the song…and psalm before it...reminds us that the people ‘sat down and wept’). The promise was this: God would establish the kingdom of one of David’s descendants and that this King would reign for ever. He would build a house for God. God would be a father to him and he would be God’s son.
Well, kings came and went. Solomon did indeed build a great temple for God but it was destroyed. Another temple was built to replace it but it too was destroyed by invading armies. As Joseph and Mary headed towards Bethlehem yet another King was attempting to claim the promise of the eternal kingdom as his own and to underline his criteria for being God’s chosen through building a temple: Herod the Great was laying the foundation stones for his temple, a building that still wasn’t complete some 30 years later when Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem.
Who is He? Our Gospel writers all saw Him through the lens provided by God’s promise to David. At Christmas time we are taken back to David’s home town – Bethlehem – for Jesus’ birth. The language of our readings (and following them our carols) is shot through with the sense, the belief, that in this person – the child in the manger - God has finally given us the eternal, everlasting Son of David. The King whose reign will be forever and ever. It matters: all that build up, all that ‘back story’, all that leads up to this moment sets the context for God coming to be with us in the person of Jesus, the Christ.
But, of course, I can’t prove this. I can’t prove that He is the Messiah..and who needs a Messiah anyway? Nor could Matthew, Mark, Luke or John prove it. Their stories sometimes seem to want to try: Matthew hammers us with bible quotes to back up his claims, Luke souses his story with the flavours and themes of the Old Testament. Mark and John take different approaches but they are all asking us to make a decision: Who is Jesus?
Our first bible reading spoke of a root or shoot coming out of Jesse, a new line, a new start in the great family tree. The arrival of someone who quite literally ‘changes everything’. Someone whose very presence produces new life in a tired world, who brings peace and justice and hope and renewal. These things the first Christians discovered in the person of Jesus. These things people still see. His reign over those who follow him has been unbroken and is set to last for ever.
And who are we?
It is understandable that the Jesse trees lead up to the presentation of Christ at his birth but since that day 2016 years ago (or ‘there abouts’ if we must be pedantic) the family has grown somewhat. You and I are His brothers and sisters. We are part of the ‘house’ promised to David all those years ago – not a house made with hands but a community, a family sharing an allegiance to Jesus our King as His followers, His disciples. The family, the community has spread to every corner of the world. It speaks a myriad languages. It worships in such a variety of ways that sometimes we might not recognise one another as part of the family at all save for our common allegiance to Jesus and a belief that (regardless of race, colour or class, or education, or sex) all those who receive Him are given power to become children of God.
But again, I cannot prove any of this. These are statements of faith. This is what I believe: that the birth of Jesus was both a fulfilment of God’s purposes and the beginning of a new chapter in His relationship with the world that he loves. A new energy has been released into the world through Jesus Christ an energy that transforms individuals and communities, that invites us to live up to our calling as children of God and to turn from all that would sully or mar His good creation.
Who is He? He is the heaven born prince of peace, the son of righteousness, a Saviour who is Christ the Lord. He is God of God, Light of Light, very God (begotten not created) take your pick or choose them all.
Who are we? We are the joyful nations rising to join the triumph of the skies, we are sinners reconciled to God, we are those given second birth. Ours are the hearts who receive the blessings of His heaven, the meek souls who receive him still, the lives into which he enters as Lord and King so that His kingdom might come on earth as in heaven.
How then can we not sing our carols? How can we not rejoice and raise a glass of the vicar’s mulled wine? For ‘Unto us a boy is born, King of all creation, the Lord of every nation’ to whom with the Father and the Spirit be ascribed glory, majesty, dominion and power now and forever and ever …and ever. Amen