The audio recording of the sermon (which should bear some similarity to the speaking notes which follow!). Happy Christmas!
Christmas Sermon: God with us: Comfort in risk taking. Do I follow? St David’s Cathedral 2014
Bible reading, The Gospel according to John 1:1-14
What joy! What happiness as we gather to worship this day: this very, very special day.
It is a time of joy, celebration, fun and unexpected discoveries. The centre of our attention is the baby Jesus.
Following last Tuesday’s media interviews here in the Cathedral, in front of our Nativity scene, a TV cameraman asked me to step aside so that he could take film footage of the Nativity. I, of course, understand why the cameraman preferred the manger to my best looking self!
But, suddenly a cry rang out, “Where’s the baby (Jesus)?” The cameraman was pointing at the empty crib! I thought, “Oh, no! We’ve lost the baby Jesus! And the media are here to report it!”
But then, salvation! I remembered: it was still 2 days before Christmas Day (we were still in the season of Advent) and the Baby Jesus had not yet been born. It’s Ok. We have not lost the baby. All will be well. We went in search of Dean (of the Cathedral) and asked if he could find the baby Jesus in order to take the filming.
Ruth, the Cathedral Administrator, kindly produced the baby Jesus who was filmed in the crib before being returned to a secret place. – I might add that I still do not know of the whereabouts of the baby’s secret lodgings as the Dean does not trust he bishop with such secrets! J
Ah, the fun and joy of Christmas! The baby Jesus appeared here last night in our Nativity scene. Praise God!
CHRISTMAS IS JOY.
Christmas is the joy of God with us. God is with us in the Baby of Bethlehem. The Christmas accounts sing this wonderful message; this love story: “God with us”. In our reading from the Gospel according to John we heard those profound words, “and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us … full of grace and truth”. (John 1:14) What joy that the God of all glory and greatness comes to be with us, His creation! This is astounding!
To ‘be with’ someone is at the centre of relationships, of our human life. There is something special about being with one another. In a time of need it is particularly special when someone is with us.
This week I spoke with parents whose child spent 92 days in hospital. The parents rearranged their life so that one of them would be at the child’s bedside every one of those 92 nights. Do you think their child appreciated this – that his parents were with him? You betcha’ he did! They were with him.
In the same way, I am sure that you can recall times when someone was with you. And I am sure that you can also recall times when you have been with someone. To ‘be with’ is to share life, a moment, times, this season of life. ‘God with us’ shares our life, in fact, every moment of our life.
This identification of God with us, of ‘the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ is at the heart of our Christmas. It gives abundant reason to celebrate, to party, to thank God for the One who is full of ‘grace and truth’ who is God with us.
At the heart of the Bible’s account of the birth of Jesus is that God has had compassion on his people and done something about it: God has become human and has fully identified himself with his people. The birth of Jesus is the ultimate sign of God’s love for us.
Yes, firstly, CHRISTMAS IS JOY.
Secondly, CHRISTMAS IS LOVE’S COST.
The flight of the Holy family into Egypt (Mt 2:13-18) shows the drama of God’s costly love for this chaotic and damaged world.
Recall that the angels have sung praises to God for his extravagant love and yet human evil causes the flight of that very Love. Emmanuel, God with us, is forced to flee from the very ones He came to help!
God’s love in the Incarnation, in the birth of the vulnerable Baby of Bethlehem, is of course quite extraordinary, indeed, quite outrageous!
A sincere non-Christian said to me of the Incarnation, “Bishop, it’s crazy!” I agreed with him, “Yes, I agree. If I was God I wouldn’t have done it!” But, God did do it. God in love lived among us.
This is awesome! God: Creator, Sustainer, Majesty on High, Lord, King of Kings, Sovereign Ruler, God of all glory.
All this speaks of God’s greatness and glory, and yet God decided to not just live with us, but to become one of us.
This is truly awesome and we rightly worship God.
For our each one of us, gathered here in this afternoon: what does this mean? Will we worship this One? Will we follow Him?
Thirdly, CHRISTMAS GIVES DIGNITY TO HUMANITY.
The coming of God to be with us as a human being, the Incarnation, demonstrates that each and every girl and boy, man and woman, is dignified, is honoured, is precious, is worthy of respect, and is of the uttermost value.
And this dignity is given to everyone. Unfortunately, at times we are tempted to consider that some people are less worthy than other people.
Do you recall to whom God sent the angel choir on that Christmas night? Yes, to the shepherds! In those days shepherds were social outcasts. Australian scholar Leon Morris says it this way, [Leon Morris, Luke, IVP London, 1974, p.84],
“As a class shepherds had a bad reputation. The nature of their calling prevented them from observing the ceremonial law which meant so much to religious people. More regrettable was their habit of confusing “mine” with “thine” as they moved about the country. They were considered unreliable and were not allowed to give testimony in the law-court. . . . they did come from a despised class”
God in love sent the angelic choir to these social outcasts; not the Village mayor. Not the Governor but to those on the margins of society.
We are to treat all people with honour, worth, dignity and respect. And that includes people fleeing from persecution!
Each and every person is precious to God. Each and every person should be precious to us, and our Government, also.
Thirdly, then, Christmas gives dignity to humanity.
Fourthly, CHRISTMAS IS INVITATION: God’s invitation to “Come on home!”: for us to be with God.
At Christmas, in the Incarnation, God puts up His ‘Welcome’ sign. God takes the risk of inviting us all into the safety, security and sustenance of His embrace, His eternal home. God took the risk of inviting us into His family.
But just as the Holy Family was rejected by the rulers and had to flee to Egypt for safety, so also, some people reject Christ and members of Christ’s followers today.
Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering for their faith in Christ even as we worship on this Christmas morning.
If we understand this how can we be indifferent to the plight of our fellow Christians? That which we can celebrate at this time of the year is a matter of life and death in other parts of the world.
I might add that the Western world’s indifference to this suffering is a scandal. (More information is available at #wearen, the Barnabas Fund and The Vicar of Baghdad.)
We should indeed be remembering all who suffer persecution and injustice. This leads us to ask some difficult questions about our own nation at this time.
For the child, whose birth in Bethlehem we celebrate grew up in Nazareth and then called people to follow him in ways of truth, justice, purity, service and self-giving.
To be a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus.
Do you follow?
How are we as a Christian community, as families as individuals, following Jesus in truth, in justice; in purity of life; in service; in self-giving and in worship?
Can we follow God’s way of invitation; of welcome and let love make a way for being with people, including difficult people, including asylum seekers?
Love carries risk, and it is the risk that the Divine Lover takes.
God took the risk of becoming human that we might experience true love but sadly we humans have not responded well to the divine invitation, to God’s welcome. Indeed at the very birth of the Baby of Bethlehem, there was welcome neither in the Inn nor in the Holy Family’s home province.
In the face of problems does God withdraw His invitation to us? No, God’s invitation continues to be extended to us, even amidst difficulties and disappointments.
Can we follow God’s way of invitation, of welcome, and let love make a way for asylum seekers?
Can risk-taking love prevail in Australia today? – Of course it can, and we are here to say and to do so.
Today we celebrate the joy of God’s love in Christ.
Today we celebrate God’s costly love.
Today celebrate the dignity of all girls and boys, men and women.
Today we celebrate Christ’s invitation and welcome to all people.
Today we celebrate our commitment to follow Christ.
Today we celebrate God who dwells with us.
Bishop John Harrower
NOTE: As you came to the Cathedral for worship this morning did you notice the Christmas sign?
The Cathedral sign encourages us to ask: Firstly, what does the sign mean? And, secondly, having determined that the sign refers to following Jesus, to ask, do I follow Jesus?
At the heart of the sign is the letter (N) ن in arabic script, equivalent to the letter “N” in the English language script. This “N” sign has become a symbol of persecuted Christians throughout the Middle East. How did this sign become well known?