by John Williams
Text Luke 2:22-40.
After the big event of Christmas, it is faithfulness in our everyday living , believing and acting that God has pitched his tent with us. Here in the real world we seek to practice the hope, peace, joy and love of Christmas in the faith that these attributes will become real in our personal life, our community, our nation and our world.
CHRISTMAS IS OVER
“And they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.”
Welcome to the first Sunday of the Christmas season, or as most people see it, the first Sunday after Christmas.
Welcome to the big come down. The post-climax sigh, where we all begin to get back to normal.
All the excitement of the Christmas services, the mystery and surprise of our Christmas Eve experience, all the culinary excesses of the Christmas dinners and parties – and now it’s the next Sunday.
Rubbish bins full of crumpled wrapping paper, “Sale” signs in every shop, and most of the work-force either back at work by Tuesday or down the coast.
Sure we’ve still got today left to sing a few more carols but we are not doing so this morning and the banners still look great, but most of us are now concerned not so much about the advent of the Master at Christmas, but the advent of the MasterCard bill in January.
Perhaps Mary and Joseph experienced a somewhat similar feeling. Even if their experience of that first Christmas was rather more mundane than the retellings of it, even if they experienced it as little more than a hard trip to Bethlehem, an uncomfortable birth in a back shed and a troubling visit from a bunch of rowdy sheep-herders, there still came a point where it was all over and life had to begin returning to normal.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we, as Christians, should be able to hold onto the excitement and joy of Christmas Day. To think that somehow the buzz we get as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Saviour should be our normal experience, that life should be one long spiritual high.
…But it doesn’t happen like that, and it isn’t supposed to.
WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES CHRISTMAS MAKE IN OUR LIVES?
What difference does Christmas make to our lives and the way we live the rest of the year? Perhaps to many it makes no difference at all. It just another event in the calendar that I do my best to get through.
But it is a nice story about a baby in a cradle and we all like babies.
But is it?
When Geoff Bullock visited us in concert a few months ago. He described quite accurately in my mind the Christmas story as a scandal. A story of a young unmarried mother, claiming her pregnancy was not of man but of God, who gave birth in stable and used a dirty feed trough as a cradle, probably in a cave at the back and under a pub. This poor young girl and her faithful boyfriend escape to Egypt, become refugees.
How we have glamourised the Christmas story in our nativity scenes and religious post cards.
However as you know there is a lot of conjecture about what actually happened and how the Christmas stories have been told. How historically accurate are they?
The birth stories are not told because they are historically accurate.
They are told because of what they mean.
And what they contribute to our understanding of Jesus and who he was.
Stories are told for meaning, insight , wisdom not necessarily for historically accuracy.
The actual historical details are largely irrelevant; Mark and John have no Christmas stories at all and we don’t consider them sub-standard accounts because of this omission. They just didn’t need those stories to make their treatise of faith so they didn’t use them. Luke didn’t need the stories of the wise men or the escape to Egypt or the killing of the infants so he didn’t use them; he used a story about shepherds and angels instead; a story that Matthew doesn’t use.
If we only had to worry about whether they were accurate accounts of history or not, I could tell you that Jesus and his parents went to Egypt when he was a baby and that a nasty king killed a lot of babies and then we could all go home and believe it fervently that it was true and it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference to any of our lives.
What is it then about the Christmas story that will make a difference in our lives and living?
So what we are actually seeking to hear this morning is what Luke was meaning when he told these stories in his particular way and even more importantly, how his message translates for us now in the actions we take and the lives we live.
The gospels each tell them in their own way … pitching them to the audience they were writing for. In Luke today we hear about two elders of the Jewish community in Simeon and Anna, at the temple seeing in Jesus… the Messiah.
Simeon says a prayer recorded here by Luke, which has been picked up in almost every Christian tradition as one of the prayers at the close of the day, known traditionally as the Nunc Dimittis:
“Now Lord, let your servant rest in peace, for you have kept your promise. With my own eyes I have seen the salvation you prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the gentiles and for glory to your people Israel”
IF we can leave behind the baby in the crib and go into the 2015 knowing that the light of the world is not in the crib but within us this has huge implications for each of us.
We can assert that:
- He has become one with us, worked with hands, tripped on dusty roads and shared our fortune. Nothing that is of earth, good or true is foreign to him. Henceforth nothing human is foreign to God.
- The incarnation at Christmas put an end to any dichotomy between God and man.
- God has not forsaken the creation and within it the human condition but is committed to it and has destined that it be without blemish and full of love and truth.
It tells of a God of Love who became one with us.
- Suffering with us, struggling with us, fleeing with us, hiding with us, hurting with us.
- Confronting sin with us, overcoming hatred with us, achieving freedom with us, living with us, loving with us, celebrating with us.
- He came as a servant king. God was vulnerable in Jesus, yet ultimately victorious.
- God came, and is with us now, in ways that can help us most… space for God to reveal, live and travel with us in new and unexpected ways.
This is the meaning of Christmas.
its a call to be open and listening to God call on each of us.
As we have been learning in advent it is about building a better world starting within us as individual, members of community, citizens of nation and globe.
SO WHAT DO WE DO NOW?
As Australians we face many issues that need to be reformed, to be changed, turned around, and even turned upside down. It means that to follow Jesus as God’s chosen agent of liberation we will be prepared to confront oppression and injustice and press for reform.
- For me one of the issues today is seeking ways to live within the capacity of the life-support systems of our planet. How do we live sustainably? How do we move from fossil fuels to power our civilization? The capital investment in the fossil fuel is so huge while the capital, power of the fossil fuel industries and their self-interest argue against renewable. This is a huge re-think to move away from investment in fossil fuels. But in the main we must. It seems strange that we often hear that our future lies in continuing to export huge amounts of fossil fuels…really.
- How do we build a society that is just and fair in the opportunities and wealth distribution? Is reform in our economy only to be borne by lower wages while no burden of change is to be carried by the wealth and powerful?
- How do we act justly towards the poverty and dysfunction in our Indigenous and poor white communities?
- How do we act justly towards our refugees…the list could go on…
But I see in our Christmas stories an expectation that Jesus leads us, if he is more than a babe in a crib filled with straw, to seek justice and liberation from oppression in our nation, our community and within ourselves.
As we do…find a word, a phrase, an image or a moment that you can hold on to and affirm in your own way in all of this …and let God sit with you as you prepare to:
- to leave behind the baby in the crib and go into 2015 knowing that the light of the world is not in the crib but within you.
The opportunity to let the meaning of Christmas break into our lives is about spending time out to listen and discern where God is calling you and I.
To see the hope where there is despair,
See the peace where there is conflict,
The joy where there is sadness and
the light of love where there is hatred.
As you think through your calling, challenge, passion …it can be… in your personal life, relationships in family…the hard stuff…in community, nation and globe.
Doing this individually is one answer to my question…So what can we do now?
I suggest you consider this. One way to make it stick might be for you to take a stone home with you…to remind you to give this serious time in prayer and meditation… just listening to God’s calling for you.
We have placed a basin of river stones near the door as you leave…take a stone home as a way to prompt you throughout the year to do one action that will shine the light of hope, peace, joy and love in your world.
And therefore go forwards with much hope as Christmas tells us that God is with us.
Or as John’s gospel says “God has pitched his tent with us”.
Or in todays language God is saying” I will ride with you.”
28 December 2014