Vicar's Sermon - Christmas Eve
What is the DNA of Christmas?
A Silent Night, a Little town? Twelve Lords a-leaping, seven swans a swimming? Snow upon snow? Watching shepherds and yonder star. A ‘cold time?’ The merry organ sweet singing in the choir a breastful of milk and a manger full of hay. No crib. Gloria in excelsis and a cold and frosty morning.
Christmas is made up of so many things. The gold of ophir. Light for people walking in darkness. Herod and all Jerusalem with him. Quirinius, Governor of Syria. The first registration and the Emperor Augustus. A most high and favoured lady. No room at the inn. David’s city. Angels and shepherds. Wise men and innkeepers. Carols and mulled wine and mountains of mince pies and cinnamon and cloves and ginger and pudding and brown sugar.
At home it is different for each one of us. Favourite food. Family traditions. The ghosts of Christmas past finding their way into the present. Thoughts of loved ones near and far. Some have gone ahead of us and we miss them especially at this time. The mix is stirred and Christmas 2014 clicks over to Christmas 2015 – ‘have a good one’.
Nothing can stand in the way of Christmas...it will come! There is a drive and an energy to it that not even the Grinch can steal. Centuries of momentum building up bringing us to this moment when a child is born. And the birth of a child...any child but especially this child...is at one and the same time both the most natural thing in the world and the most miraculous. (Is it really so hard to believe in the incarnation?) There comes a point in every pregnancy when the contractions get stronger and stronger that there is nothing that will stand in the way of the child being born. Mothers know this in a way that we ‘men from mars’ can not – their body overtaken by a force that seems to come from beyond themselves and yet is grounded within them. Isn’t that a picture of a miracle?
The DNA of Christmas sees this force pulling together the various strands of God’s purposes from ages past: the desire of the Creator for people to bear the image of God, to embody His goodness within creation. There is the recognition of the need for a new start; The long link back to the Patriarch Abraham and the people of Israel; The hope for a deliverer, (like Moses) to lead God’s people to safety and to teach them His ways; The Royal heritage based in the line of King David, the shepherd of Israel; The embrace of the stranger found in the family tree that includes Ruth, the Moabitess. Christmas brings to us the desire for God’s glory to dwell on earth - a desire first expressed in the Sinai desert as the people created the tabernacle, but then seen in Jerusalem as the temple (and then a second and third) was built – the dwelling place for God on earth. All these things and more are gradually bundled together into the double helix that will give birth to ‘Emmanuel, God with us. ‘ There is an inevitability about this birth...and a wonder that it takes place. An inevitability because Jesus fulfils all His people’s history: long centuries may have passed but God’s purposes have remained constant – to bring to birth a Second Adam who will show the world what God looks like, and who will bear the Divine image. And a wonder at the patience of the Almighty to bring this to pass.
Lest we are tempted to read the Christmas story as speaking of some ‘absentee deity’ ‘breaking in’ to His creation we should think again – this pregnancy has lasted more than nine months...it has spanned generations, it has known mortal threat and danger and yet it has survived. The Divine purpose ‘late in time’ coming to fulfilment.
But with the birth, as with any birth, comes a new start. To as many who believed in him He gave power to become ‘children of God’. God’s purpose is that this one child is to be joined by others, born, not of the will of flesh or of man but of God. This is you and I - this is the people of God who we call the church. This is where His story becomes your story. His birth makes your second birth possible. God, coming to us is the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the one we call Christ, inviting each of us to carry His likeness into our lives. Which I suppose is one of the reasons why you are here tonight. Because the DNA of Christmas is, in the end made up of just one main ingredient: the eternal, undying, ever faithful, long suffering, burning Love that God has for each one of us...including you. That love presses upon us this night and seeks our response. Love comes down at Christmas...and where meek souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in.