Christmas Eve Sermon
The Reverend Charles Royden
What was the first Christmas like ? The nativity stories in the Bible do not pretend that it was easy for Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. It was a troubled affair involving dangerous journeys. It was a humble time with no proper living conditions and the baby lying in the feeding trough. There were relationship problems between the happy couple with Joseph not long before wanting to break off the engagement because he believed Mary was an adulteress.
There is no idyllic scene painted by either Matthew or Luke, they give us the raw details of how life was for poor people in a country occupied by foreign troops with the mad dictator Herod in charge. We need to remember that the reason for Mary and Joseph being Bethlehem was not just about census, it was about a cruel tax . The child of Mary was born into a world where violence, famine, disease, poverty, unemployment, death were just normal. Make no mistake, the holy couple were in a state of fear and anxiety that first Christmas.
This Christmas is probably the one with most uncertainty surrounding it that I can remember. The sales have begun earlier than ever. The well off have perhaps been spending less, the poor are feeling really vulnerable. Those with jobs cling onto them because we all know that things are troubled and many are facing an uncertain future.
What is life like for you at the moment? Are you experiencing financial worries, relationship difficulties, are you frightened for the future? Well that is exactly what the first Christmas was all about. It is no surprise to God that we go through all of this and it was into such an environment that Jesus, the living presence of God on earth was born.
'Away In A Manger' is a beautiful Christmas carol, but we must remind ourselves each year that the line “the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes” is utterly ridiculous. Jesus was a refugee with a death sentence, he wept, grieved, knew hunger, thirst and fear. we must be careful not to imagine the first Christmas as a fairy story, a beautiful to tale to help us escape from the realities of life. Indeed the opposite is true, when we understand just how difficult life was for the holy family, then we can recognise that God is not distant or remote, but a participant in the worst of human experience.
This is important, becaue if the church pretends that good christian people are somehow protected by God through life's journey with bubble wrap then we have nothing to say of value. It is our responsibility to tell it how it really is, not even Jesus avoids the toil and trouble of the human condition, he goes through it every bit as much as we do.
So it is hard to sing with the angels, but we do so knowing that things were no better on the first Christmas night than they are today, and probably a lot worse. We can sing because with God we do not have to put on a smiley face when underneath are worlds are falling apart. With God we do not have to pretend that things are better than they really are.
The Christmas message of God in Jesus being born into the human situation reminds us that there is a God in whom we can trust in spite of the woes of the world. God does not protect us from the trials of human life, but God will share with us and help us to be part of the change needed in the world. God is in there with us taking the risks.The Christmas story tells us that God has not given up on us, nor will he.
The Archbishop of Canterbury in his Christmas message said
'I'm not going away' is one of the most important things we can ever hear, whether we hear it from someone at our bedside in illness or over a shared drink at a time of depression or stress – or at a moment when we wonder what's happening to our neighbourhood and our society. This is the heart of what Christmas says about God. And it's the real justification for any local church or any national church being there. When people are pushed by all sorts of destructive forces into seeing themselves as hopeless, as rubbish, so that what they do doesn't matter any more, it's this that will make the change that matters.
If times ahead are hard then each one of us in our church community will need to hear these words that God is with us, standing alongside those who hurt or those who have missed out, and those who deserved better but were treated badly by others.