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Sermon for Christmas Eve, Holy Communion

The Reverend Charles Royden

Luke Chapter 2 :1-14

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests."


 

If you go the National Trust website you can visit online many exciting places. You can see grand stately homes and castles. You can also see Mendips a very uninspiring semi-detached house in Liverpool and 20 Forthlin Road, Allerton, in Liverpool. People travel from all over the world to make real visit to these places, most people in Liverpool don't bother. It is interesting that often things which are close to us we don't bother with, but they are just ordinary houses. The reason why they are famous National Trust Properties is because of who grew up there.

Mendips is the home in which John Lennon grew up in Woolton in Liverpool. You can visit his bedroom and you can see the kitchen where John Lennon's Aunt Mimi would cook him his favourite meal of egg and chips washed down with a cup of tea. 20 Forthlin Road, Allerton is the early home of Sir Paul McCartney.

These houses are  important because they are places where the Beatles rehearsed and wrote their early music. 20 Forthlin is described by the National Trust as one of the most important houses in the history of popular music.
There we have it, the importance of the houses comes from what was later to become of the significance of the Beatles and their music.

So it is that the birthplace of Jesus in Bethlehem was unremarkable, a cave perhaps where animals would be kept. Yet a cave in Bethlehem became spoken about and venerated as the birth place of Jesus from the time of Justin Martyr around 160AD and the first church was dedicated on May 31, 339 by the Roman Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena. The place where Jesus was born, and stories of his birth were important for the early Christians because of the subsequent life of Jesus.

It was the accomplishment of his life which gave importance to the stories surrounding his birth. When Jesus died and rose again from the dead people found faith in God and an awareness of the life of God in their own lives. Jesus conquered death and his risen life became a part of their personal experience.

So it was that Luke and Matthew went back and gathered information together in the stories which told of the controversy between his parents over the nature of the pregnancy, the difficulties surrounding his birth in Bethlehem and the subsequent need for his parents to seek refuge in another country because of threats to the life of the baby.

Yet this information is only significant because it forms a part of the wider truth about who Jesus was.

In our passage tonight from Luke’s Gospel, we see Luke bringing together stories which fit in with his understanding of the type of person and ministry which Jesus had.
When Luke wrote his Gospel he had seen

  • A Jesus who in life had had time for very ordinary people.
  • A Jesus who in death had been born into the hearts of very ordinary people.

Luke knew that Jesus was a Messiah who didn't just relate well to the poor, he was one of them.

  • It is only Luke who records the words of Mary in the Magnificat. It is filled with images of justice: "God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts"; "God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."
  • It is only Luke who tells us about the shepherds. In Matthew’s Gospel the visitors are Magi, travellers from the east, exotic people bearing expensive gifts. Matthew doesn't mention a stable, he doesn't mention that there was no room. Luke has Shepherds who were considered very lowly. These were rough men used to living in the desert and outside the religious system. This was a way for Luke to tell his hearers that Jesus cared about the poor, the disenfranchised, the outcast, all the people!  The shepherds, the poorest of the poor, the religious outcasts are the ones who find themselves in a field witnessing the glory of the Lord shining on them.

Luke wants to show that ordinary people were discovering following the death of Jesus that the risen life of Jesus could be born in them. Luke notes the fact that the shepherds made time to go to see the Jesus and that they came away and returned to their fields praising and glorifying God!

It is as if he is saying, 'Look if shepherds were changed by meeting with Jesus, so you can be changed too. Luke wants his readers to recognise from the birth stories that Jesus is for them. Then he wants them to move on and realise the transforming power of the life and death of Jesus. The message of the Christmas stories of Luke is that is that no person need consider themselves and their lives unimportant to God. The life which God chose in Jesus was one of poverty and lack of power.  Jesus was born in the humiliation of cave and ended his life with the degradation and suffering of the cross.  So no person need consider themselves unimportant, or insignificant to God. 
 
The houses of the Beatles are very undramatic, but they have some value because they are a part of the wider story of a music phenomena The Beatles.
 
The birth stories of Jesus are interesting, but they gain their significance in that they tell us about God's Saviour and what he is like. God did not chose to be born in a palace to a powerful human family he did it the other way round. 

  • Jesus is born to an unmarried mother
  • There is no room at the inn
  • He is visited by a bunch of rough workmen

Yet in spite of his ordinariness this is the Saviour. The baby is God's answer to our hope and trust in him. Now we like Luke's hearers are faced with a challenge. The birth stories are only as important as the reality of the Saviour in our lives. Luke gives us this information to encourage us to recognise that Jesus is special, not an ordinary baby but God incarnate, God in the flesh. Now it is up to us to welcome him into our hearts this Christmas time.

Tonight we have a celebration of this as we take bread and wine, Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, God in us. We make this a time to seek evermore the presence of God in our lives.

O Holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray
Cast out our sin, and enter in:
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.