At this moment, all over the world, people are celebrating because it is Christmas. But because of coronavirus, we probably can’t celebrate Christmas in the way we would normally choose. Have you had to change some of your plans this year? I know I have.
Its been quite a year, hasn’t it? I think that I have said the words ‘normal’ and ‘normally’ much more this year that I normally would ever have done …see what I did there?
So I’m going to see if I can get through this sermon without saying the words normal or normally. See how we go!
By Christmas Eve I am usually all Christmas Carolled out:
- the school carol services are over,
- the community concerts performed
- and the Crib service in a packed-out church completes the Advent season…
…but not this year! For safety reasons, our churches have been very low key
and many or the Christmas services that we know and love, just haven’t taken place. Its sad really because for many people it is the only Christian input they might get.
This year, people may not be flocking to church, prayers may not be offered, carols may not be sung and the nativity story probably won’t get a mention. But regardless of all that, Christmas is still a time that touches people’s hearts. They greet each other differently, they are more open to people in need, they make an extra effort to reach out to others in generosity. Regardless of social distancing and coronavirus tiers, Christmas is still a time of giving and receiving.
At home, underneath our Christmas tree are quite a few presents, just waiting to be opened. Receiving a gift is so exciting. And what makes it so special is that the person who bought it took the time to think about us and made the effort to choose something that they thought we would like. Some presents are extra special and the memory of receiving them may last a lifetime.
Can any of you remember Christmas from when you were a child? My oldest memory is from Christmas 1964. I was 4 years old and I can remember my Christmas present…meet Christina.
Now, as you can see, Christina has been well loved. She has been:
- a baby…
- a school child…
- a shop customer…
- a post office assistant…
- a patient
- and so on…
She’s been played with by:
… my friends
… my children
… and even my grandchildren.
She also has the scars to prove it. Her hair and one of her feet melted a bit after I washed her hair and sat her in front of the open fire to dry.
She has a scar on her mouth (and I’m a bit ashamed of this one). Do any of you remember the Tiny tears doll? Well, a tiny tears doll could be fed and poor Christina’s mouth was closed, so I got a knife …
…and slit her mouth to make room for a spoon.
Poor Christina’s eyes no longer open and close and its has been many years since she had eye lashes.
She is still loved though and now that’s she’s reached the grand old age of 56, she has a much more peaceful life (my grandsons think she’s freaky and she does live in a cupboard!!)
Today, many people will be receiving gifts that are loved, enjoyed and appreciated, but will possibly fade into distant memories. Others, like Christina will be remembered and valued for the rest of our lives.
Yet ALL of these gifts, whatever they are will fade into insignificance when compared with the greatest gift of all …the gift God gives each one of us for Christmas. This gift is told in the Christmas story we heard from John’s gospel earlier.
Now – you’re probably sitting there thinking that you didn’t actually hear
the Christmas story in our gospel reading. The reading starts “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. There’s no mention of a journey to Bethlehem, no room at the inn, no stable or baby in a manger, no announcements from angels and no surprise visits from shepherds. And yet it is this passage from John’s gospel that sums up the greatest gift we will ever receive.
What I love about this reading from John is that it begins at the beginning. Right at the beginning; at the beginning of time. Scholars tell us (and who am I to argue) that Jesus is the ‘Word’…’In the beginning was Jesus, and Jesus was with God, and Jesus was God.
How mind-blowing is that?
The reading goes on to say that “the Word became flesh and lived among us”. So, if what John writes is true, then God himself entered the human race in the form of a tiny baby. Theologians call it the Incarnation. Jesus’ birth differs from every other birth because he chose to be born. The rest of us were born but we had no choice in the matter.
In the OT we know God as the all-powerful God who created the earth. The same invincible God who parted the Red Sea, was also a remote God who refused even Moses the sight of his face. And yet he chose to come to earth to be born as a vulnerable baby. As we know, babies are helpless and have no control over their survival. They are totally dependent on others in order to live and to grow. Jesus was born like any other baby, except there was no midwife to help his entry into the world and he was born in a place where you’d least expect God to be. Jesus was born among the lowly and the poor. He lived a normal life and experienced the same emotions that everyone else does. He wasn’t exempt from the hurt and pain of everyday life and there’s nothing that he doesn’t understand.
What really amazes me is that being born as man and experiencing life in the same way that we do, was all part of God’s plan right from the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. Being born into the world as a helpless child wasn’t an after-thought. Jesus was right there on Day One. God knew that in order to be able to bring blessings to his people, they needed to come to know him. And to know Jesus is to know God.
God chose to give us the gift of Jesus Christ, so that through him we can receive his ultimate gift of eternal life. And it’s up to us whether we choose to accept that gift or not. So, this Christmas as we give and receive gifts, let’s thank God for the greatest gift of all…