Benediction Online

Monday, December 24, 2012


Isaiah 9:2-7 
Titus 2:11-14 
Luke 2:1-14(15-20) 

So here we are. Finally. After all the preparations and the rushing around, the advertisements and the carols playing over and over in crowded stores, we have arrived at Christmas Eve. And we have gathered here in this church because tonight is the night. The night that prophets foretold and angels heralded. The night that has been the stuff of myth, of story and of song ever since. The night when God was born in baby flesh.

We have gathered here because we want something more than the lights and glitter and wrapping paper. We want the real thing. We want to believe in the child who is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and who will bring endless peace. We want to touch God in human form. We want to hear, no,  we need to hear, “good news of great joy for all the people.” Heaven knows, good news has been a little short recently.

We are still reeling from the tragedy in Newtown, and just this morning we heard of firefighters shot and killed when responding to a fire. The country hovers on the brink of a fiscal cliff and our representatives cannot agree what to do. We could certainly use the peace which is the promise of Christmas.

But can we still believe this promise, after so much time has passed? It is nearly three thousand years since the prophet Isaiah promised that this child would bring endless peace, it is more than two thousand years since Jesus Christ was born, and we are still waiting in a world of wars and rumors of wars.

Sometimes we are given a gift that is totally unexpected. It’s not something that we would have asked for, it’s not something that we wanted, but it turns out to be exactly what we needed. When I was about eight, my parents gave me the best Christmas present I have ever received. It was the Ladybird Junior Science book of Pulleys, Levers and Engines… it opened up a whole new world for me and made me understand so many things in a totally new way.

The gift of Jesus was not what the Jewish people had asked for, it was not what they expected. Jesus was not the political, military savior that they hoped for. Instead, Jesus’ ministry was to bring peace and healing and to show us what it means to live a holy God-centered life. The peace that he brought was not national peace, a resolution of the conflict with the Roman occupiers. It was something much more subtle. For those who looked beyond the surface it opened up a whole new world and enabled humans to understand things in a totally new way.

Perhaps humanity has not yet learned to unwrap the gift of Christmas. We have not yet learned to engage with the real gift of Christ in a way that leads to peace and joy - that gift is the gift of a loving co-creative relationship with the divine. Jesus showed us a new way to relate to God, not as an angry punishing king who expects impossible things of us, but as a God who was willing to become human, even to come as a helpless baby so that we might find our way to a peace-filled and joy-filled relationship with the divine.

This relationship is not about feeling warm, content and “in the zone”; it will push us beyond our limits. It will challenge us to let go of selfishness and greed, to stop holding anger and bitterness, to find ways to connect with those who are different from us. It will challenge us to work for gun-control, to end hunger and homelessness, and for equal treatment of all of God’s children. But it is the only way we will truly find fulfillment because we were created to live with God at the center of our lives.

That is what draws us on and that is why we are here this evening, so that we can meet with the God who loved us enough to become a human with all our limitations… and we are in the right place, because this is one of the many places where the daughters and sons of God gather with the angels to worship the All-Compassionate God, and this is one of the many places where God gathers with his people. God is here.

But we may not see her. No-one looking for a Messiah that night in Judea would have thought to look in a dirty stable in Bethlehem. It took a crowd of angels to persuade the shepherds to make the trek into town to see the baby. Without the angels they would just have gone on watching their sheep, telling stories, gossiping and trying to stay warm. They were ordinary people doing ordinary things. We are often so busy doing the ordinary things that we miss the moment when the grace of God appears in our lives.

So I invite you to put aside your skepticism. Whether the story of Christmas is a myth or a historical fact is unimportant. Whether we are singing the carols you wanted to sing is immaterial. Now is the time to open the eyes and ears of your heart. Now is the time to let go of the anxious thoughts and plans, the questions and fears and still yourself. Still yourself so that you can open up to God in a new way. Expect to meet with God in an unexpected way.

Tonight as we continue with our service, as we pray and sing together, the God of extravagant love is present, ready to embrace each of us. How will you respond? Will you say, yes here I am, meet with me, or will you shut down and turn away?

I encourage you to accept and unwrap the gift of loving relationship which is offered to you tonight. I encourage you to take one step, whatever that might be, towards God. There is always more. Until we become fully Christ-like, there are always places in us waiting to be healed and transformed.

Now let us, like the shepherds, hasten to Bethlehem to see the child who is born tonight, God in baby-flesh.


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