I spotted an article a few days ago that was someone’s Christmas Day message, written and posted up on their blog in advance- because they hoped that everyone would have too much to do on the day to be
wasting spending time reading a blog… well, for similar reasons but doing things the opposite way around here’s what I preached on Christmas Eve… on the passages from Isaiah chapter 9 and John’s Gospel chapter 1. I did also preach on Christmas Day in the morning, but I thought I’d mix things up a bit… in order to fully appreciate this post, please read at 11.30pm after a hectic day, surrounded by candles and Christmas lights, with a few good friends and maybe having had a small glass of something-
I want to give us three short thoughts at this time, based on three images from our Bible readings- we have these same readings each year, and for each of us different parts will stand out, and have significance. They are also a part of the season- just as we sing carols, eat turkey, struggle with the tree, so we hear the familiar words read. But although they are something we return to each year, we need not become so overfamiliar with them that they lose their power. So may God speak to us all this Christmas season through his word, and through his Son Jesus Christ who’s birth we celebrate.
The passage from Isaiah has two wonderful images in it- ones that I find really helpful in tough times. And these are tough times. There is mention of the land of the shadow of death- Isaiah is writing at a time of unrest in his nation, when its uncertain when and where the next invasion will come from, who are their allies… the only certainty is that God is still faithful despite the people and their rulers turning away again and again. But for us that phrase, the shadow of death, is most often connected to Psalm 23, and the promise it contains- I will fear no evil, for though I walk in that valley I know that the Lord is with me… Isaiah would have known that same Psalm, and his words are of hope for the people around him at that time- a light is dawning… ultimately the darkness of night, the despair of war will come to an end…
The second image is one that Jesus spoke about hundreds of years later, and you’ll have heard me mention it before- the yoke. When Jesus talks about a yoke he is encouraging his followers- come to me all who are weary and burdened. I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you- you will find it easy and the burden light… as a well-fitted harness allows us to work hard and to carry heavier weights… this is in contrast to the bar on the shoulders of Isaiah’s people, the yoke of the invading armies which bears them down… God promises that one day that will be broken, and Jesus invites us to take up a new yoke that fits us and works with us. For its important to realise, to remember, that of the many things that Jesus came to do, freeing us from the need to work was not one of them.
The third image comes from the passage from John we just heard, and its one of encouragement and hope- There are many parts of this passage which I don’t fully understand, but that evoke something within me, but for today I want to look at the very final verse- The Word (which we’re just beginning to understand is John’s way of describing Jesus in this prologue to his Gospel) became flesh. That’s the heart of what we celebrate at Christmas- the indescribable power of God at work in creation entered into the world in a child… God who brings light in the darkness and an end to the night, came and made his dwelling among us- he came among us. No, more than that, he came and lived and worked and sweated among us… We can say that God knows us because God has lived among us- we know that God understands our fears and our work- that God’s promises to be with us in the valley of the shadow of death and to form for us a yoke that is easy… we know those promises are made by a God who has walked on this earth- who worked by the sweat of his brow, who cooked and cleaned and waited for the sunrise, who knew the loss of friends and was himself let down by those who followed him. This God made his dwelling amongst us, to know us. Just as we know what it is to love somewhere in a picture, to love somewhere from a holiday, and to love somewhere you live… God knows that too. He has chosen to do this. And tonight we celebrate and remember that.
So may your tinsel be sparkly and your bubbles freshly poured, may your hearts be filled with love for your neighbour and compassion for the stranger, may you know the joy of the giver and the gift, may you know God’s love for you this year, in the midst of whatever you are living through- may you know God with you- Immanuel…
By now your turkey will have been demolished, the wrapping will be well and truly strewn, and you’ll be beginning to wonder what you should have got done before work starts, but I invite you to join with me and that radical disciple, the Archbishop of Canterbury in praying, speaking for and acting to help the homeless, the poor and the disadvantaged, wherever the may be, as we remember the birth of the homeless refugee Jesus.