Let me start by wishing you all a very Happy Christmas.
I know that for many here this year will have been difficult and challenging. I also know that 2019 will be a challenging year. In the political sphere we seem to be inhabiting a world characterised not by ‘glory,’ ‘grace’ and ‘truth,’ but rather by ego, ill-will and, falsehood. I think, and believe, that 2019 will be a year for the church to show her true colours and to offer to a deeply broken world a better story in which to believe and live by; not a new story but a better story, for our Christian story is an old and timeless story.
Our story begins and ends with the word of God: ‘in the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Of course by gathering here tonight to greet the Babe of Bethlehem and to receive him into our midst, through word and sacrament, we not only proclaim that God ‘was’ but that God ‘is.’ Our faith must always dare to proclaim, in word and deed, that God is a present reality and that His Son, Our Saviour, continues to live and reign supreme and that the only Christmas present we can give Jesus is to welcome him into our midst. The reading from John’s prologue makes it clear that people of faith – religious people – haven’t necessarily found it easy to truly welcome God – Jesus – into their very midst: ‘He came to what was his own and his own people did not accept him.’ Once again, the best, no the only, Christmas present we can give Jesus is simply this: to ‘accept Him,’ or to receive Him, and to learn from Him.
A few weeks ago I cited Archbishop William Temple’s observation that what the world really needs above all else is this: ‘more and better Christians.’ I truly believe this. In fact I have never believed it more. The Christian faith, as an active lived out faith, is a necessary good for the world and the one way in which Christians can truly honour Jesus. The Christian faith offers to a world starved of true virtue, and sickened by cheap and frequently unfulfilled promises, ‘glory,’ ‘grace’ and ‘truth.’ The miracle of Christmas is simply this: that God makes a free gift offering of himself. Our free choice is whether to accept or reject the gift. In reality we have only two choices as to what to do with the supreme gift. We can leave it unwrapped, alone, under the tree, or perhaps in the back of a drawer, or, we can lovingly unwrap the gift and place it somewhere where we can cherish it and nurture it. If we make the choice to accept the gift the place we must keep it, and allow it to live, is in our hearts. As Christians Jesus must always, for us, be at the heart of things. Keeping Jesus at the heart of things is good for us as a community, and as individuals, and for the world around us. The world needs a better story and the only people who can tell it are people like you and me. Our ability to tell a better story and to sing salvation’s song is contingent on one thing and one thing only: receiving him, and believing in his name, for this is the means through which we offer to the world real, divine, ‘glory,’ ‘grace’ and ‘truth.’
There is an old saying, one we are all familiar with, that ‘it is better to give than to receive.’ Christianity, in some ways, turns this ‘wisdom’ on its head and says instead: ‘in order to give that which is of the highest value you first need to receive it.’ Our Christmas duty and joy is to receive Jesus into our hearts as the Prince of Glory, Grace and Truth for our own sake and the sake of the world around us.