I wonder how many times you’ve heard the story of the birth of Jesus, as told by Luke in his gospel? It’s a story about simple shepherds, in a field, watching over their flocks at night, when suddenly, in a starlit sky, there comes a bright light – which turns out to be an angel and all the heavenly host – proclaiming good news to all of humanity.
The shepherds leave their flocks (which is something they wouldn’t normally do) to go and follow the directions given to them by the angel – towards another bright light – the star which is hovering over Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, who is lying in the straw, surrounded by the silent, innocent animals in the stable.
How many times have you heard this story, seen it portrayed on greeting cards around the Christmas season and in the pictures we see on the television - every Christmas - this wonderful, warm, loving image?
Christmas is like that for many of us.
It’s like streams of warm and wonderful family memories, of images that we treasure and hold dear, that we wrap around ourselves every Christmas. It makes us feel comforted and hopeful and brings us back to our childhood - every Christmas, year after year.
You know, the truth is, it probably didn’t happen in that way, or even on that day. Jesus almost certainly wasn’t born on December 25th (winter in the Middle East). That idea came in about the 4th century. Prior to that, Christians, in different places, celebrated the anniversary of the birth of our Lord on different days.
I wonder - is the actual date really that important, in our celebration of the arrival of God’s son to earth?
In our family, we don’t get too fussed if we can’t celebrate an important event, like a birthday, on the actual day. To us, it’s the fact that the family is all celebrating together, not what day of the week it is.
And, I also wonder, is it all that important for Christians to know whether Mary & Joseph were housed in an inn, or in the spare room of a relative’s house, or in a cavern attached to the house? We know that animals often slept inside on cold winter’s nights, but there is some thought that the animals only began to appear in nativity art in about the fourth century, possibly because the biblical commentators at the time used Isaiah 3 as part of their anti-Jewish argument, to claim that animals understood the significance of Jesus, in a way that the Jews did not.
When Christians today gather around a crib, or set up a nativity scene in their homes, they continue a tradition that began in the 12th century with Francis of Assisi. He brought a crib and animals into his church, so that everyone who was worshipping could feel part of the story. Thus, the popular nativity tradition was born.
Another perplexing question. Have you ever wondered how many wise men/astrologers/magi came to see the infant Messiah? Most people will say 3, because 3 gifts were given to Jesus, but there could have been any number of them. As Sir David Attenborough famously says of many vexing questions: “We just don’t know.”
And the date of their visit is also in doubt, because we read in Matthew’s Gospel that King Herod ordered all boys under 2 to be killed. Therefore, the magi might have visited any time in the first couple of years after Jesus was born.
How relevant, or important, is it to our Christian faith, that we have all the facts in the right chronological order? It certainly isn’t to me. The most relevant fact is that we are celebrating the moment when God enters into history in human form - and nothing has ever been the same since that time.
Celebrating the time when the light of Jesus came into the world.
The embodiment of the spiritual into flesh, called the “incarnation” in biblical circles, is, of necessity, a reason for us to change. It means God coming into our time and into our space and into our lives and into our comfort zones, shaking things up and re-creating them in a new way. It challenges us to confront change and to be active in doing something about it.
We’re called to be co-workers with God in the world around us – in the Kingdom of God.
Christmas is usually a constant celebration and year after year, we tend to follow the traditions. But, in reality, no two years are ever the same and our lives will never the same. Every year we are, in fact, older and, hopefully, wiser.
Lynne & I moved house 12 months ago and, even though all our children and grandchildren will still be celebrating Christmas with us over lunch, after this service, it will feel quite different this year, in a different house.
At this time of the year, most of us are really busy, running around, seemingly chasing our tails, buying presents for our loved ones and even people that we don’t really see for the rest of the year. But is all this “busyness” really helpful?
Have you ever thought how you’d feel if you gave a child a beautiful present, only to find that either: (a) they don’t open it, or (b) they’ve opened it, but ignored it, or (c) they’ve played with it for a short time, but then forgotten about it or finally (d) they’ve broken it.
If you can identify with this feeling, you might start to understand how God feels.
God gave the world the best gift, ever, at Christmas about 2,000 years ago - in the shape of his son, Jesus, but the world wasn’t too appreciative.
Some people refused to believe that he really was God’s son, whilst others followed him for a while, before going back to their old ways. And the worst part was when the religious leaders managed to convince the Romans to crucify him.
Maybe we should be giving more thought to how WE can be a “gift” to other people. Perhaps we could visit a lonely neighbour, volunteer at an aged care centre, or invite someone to join us for Christmas lunch, etc. These are just some of the ideas that may make someone else’s Christmas a bit more memorable.
Fortunately, many people HAVE accepted God’s gift – wholeheartedly - and are still following him today.
I pray that we may all remember to thank God, every day, for his fantastic present. Change is the name of the game in today’s world, and, on this Christmas Day, it comes through the birth of the Christ, Jesus.
I encourage you to rejoice, for the light has come into the world and YOU should take that light out into the darkness to be a beacon for God’s love of humanity.
May light come in your world this day………….Pastor Rick