Sermon Christmas Day December 25, 2016
Isaiah 52:7-10 Psalm 98 Hebrews 1:1-12 John 1:1-14
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
You know, one of the great losses from having the Internet, email, Facebook, Twitter and the like is the loss of anticipation. Today we get our information instantaneously instead of waiting for a letter in the mail and relishing the time to sit down and read it. No longer do we think “I wonder if ” “or “I can’t wait to hear ” we get “Oh ! Guess what just happened ?” And we move on to the next thing, hardly taking the time to absorb the news or its ramifications. It’s not the same by any means, it’s just not the same, one of the little pleasures in life has all but disappeared. Instant gratification, instant information causes us to lose the anticipation of an event. I doubt today anyone would say “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news”.
All that remains of anticipation it seems for most is that we have endured weeks and weeks of waiting for Santa and it has been agonising, rather than a pleasure, because advertisers bombarded us with messages to buy things we did not know we needed, and there is little anticipation – Amazon delivers in two days. Why that is hardly any time at all to wait or for excitement to build. The consequence is that the joy and fulfillment is less as well. But for those of us who have anticipated our way through Advent hearing and thinking about God’s purpose in the Incarnation, the Birth of His only Son, things have been quite different.
To savour that another way put yourself back in the days of Isaiah. Persia’s King Cyrus had liberated the Jews from Babylon after seventy years of them being in exile there. The writer of the Isaian reading was one of those returning and he obviously puts a positive spin on the event, but I wonder what the reality was for those who had remained in Jerusalem. Isaiah says Jerusalem was joyfully looking for the first sign of the returnees on the hills around the city. It took the exiles weeks to walk back, not as a marching or triumphant parade but as a straggling column of refugees. Most had never known Jerusalem. Nearly all of those who had been taken away into exile by Nebuchadnezzar had died in captivity. The returning refugees had probably been sustained by their parents’ stories of how wonderful ‘the old country’ was and had a mental picture of the place probably more rosy than it really was.
In Jerusalem the survivors of those who had stayed behind had faced hard times because the skilled workers and the elites of society had been taken away leaving mainly inexperienced uneducated people to try and run businesses and the affairs of Judah. Those remaining and those returning did not know what to expect of each other. For one it was a return to the unknown and glorified homeland, for the other it was a return of unknown strangers, invaders almost, as they feared the returnees might take over and rule as their fathers had done before them the way Ezra and Nehemiah as history records were about to do. The residents of Jerusalem were anticipating an invasion and those returning in joy anticipated restoration, so anticipation for both grew every day as they got closer to Jerusalem. It meant that Judah would be re-established, perhaps to its former glory. The same thing happened in Palestine/Israel from the 1930’s on and especially after 1948 when Jews returned ‘home’ to it from all over the world.
Six centuries after Isaiah Jesus’ birth was awaited with much anticipation too, and contradiction. No one knew what was going to happen but they hoped for the restoration of Jewish glory and power – uncertainty reigned. Jesus is the Son of the Creator God, who had made everything including Judea but like Jerusalem awaiting the returning refugees the world did not know Jesus. They knew there would be change but they wanted that change to be the way they wanted it to be – we are the same. We want our enemies to be defeated and blessings to come our way, trouble is Jesus said “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). That is probably the hardest thing to do, we are just not built to lower our guard and embrace those who threaten our way of life but that is what we have to do and that’s what the Jews of Jerusalem had to do for the returning exiles. Jesus also said “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). That seems like a contradiction of everything we know about Jesus and celebrate about Christmas, but not so, for Jesus also said “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) and He said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). How can all this be reconciled ? The peace Jesus brings and gives is the peace between us and God, which he brought about when He reconciled us to God on the Cross. The turmoil He brings is the turmoil He causes in our hearts when we hear His Word and compare it with our wishes. Yes there is going to be turmoil, when we realise that we are not the sole recipients of Christ`s love, that those whom we hate ! despise ! exclude ! curse ! ignore ! are also loved by Jesus. To them He will bring peace and to us too when we accept His way. There is a lot of turmoil in the world right now, and we are charged with changing it by bringing Peace, the Peace of Christ to it. If all humanity were reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, and there is no other way, there would be true Peace. Unfortunately the world is not out there asking for a dose of peace from us, mainly because they don`t know about it. It is up to us to show by the example of loving all God`s Creation, even the bits of it or the people in it we don`t like. Like the Jews in Jerusalem, we don`t really have a choice. If we don`t show the world how to live a Christian life, we will find ourselves living its life and that would not be right. It is time for Christ to change the world again, this time through us and we will. Christmas is here at long last. Christ is here ! The anticipation is over. It is time to celebrate the Birth of the Saviour and renew the world ! Amen.