The lead up to Christmas is undoubtedly a time of ritual: buying the tree and dressing it, wrapping presents (in my case very badly), decorating the house and so forth. Watching a Christmas film or two is, for many families, a favourite ritual. Does anyone have a favourite Christmas film?  A couple of days ago I watched a film, a very old film, that I had never seen before: ‘The Bishop’s Wife,’ staring David Niven, Cary Grant and Loretta Young. Has anyone seen it? David Niven plays the part of a bishop who has somewhat lost his way, both in his marriage and in his vocation as a bishop. Cary Grant plays the part of an angel who suddenly and mysteriously appears in order to lead the bishop back to his true vocation.

The bishop’s problem is that he has got so caught up in the finery and ritual of religion that he has lost sight of the purpose and rationale of faith. He has become all technique, technique which he is not even very good at, at the expense of virtue. He has forgotten that Christianity is a religion that stresses the importance of grace and charity. He has forgotten that generosity and love must always sit at the heart of all true Christianity, and before we pass judgement on the good bishop we should, perhaps, remind ourselves that we too can become so fixated on ritual and technique that we too forget that generosity and giving must sit at the heart of our faith.

The Christmas story is the story of God’s generosity. God, through the person of Jesus Christ, gives entirely of himself. He gives Himself to each and every one of us and this, surely, is the best of news?

So how should we respond to the good news of Jesus Christ? Well, as St. Luke rightly insists, with ‘great joy’ and generosity we should give him, as Christina Rosstti wrote, ‘our heart.’ The really good news is that if we do this we will grow in generosity and gratitude. We will become increasingly kind and compassionate. We will become good news. We will become the sort of people who bring a little of the Kingdom of God, in heaven, down to earth.

So, may I wish you a very Merry Christmas and as you enjoy the ritual of opening your presents, to spend just a short time making sure that you give back to Jesus the very best present that you can: your heart, Amen.

 

It would perhaps be a bit of an understatement to say that in many years this has been a difficult and fractious year; a year when division rather than reconciliation appears to have been the dominant characteristic of our national life. Let’s hope and pray that next year is better; far better. Let’s hope for the return of ‘grace and truth.’

As a Christian I believe – no, strongly believe – that the answer to many of our collective problems can be found through taking seriously the story of Jesus’ birth, and his subsequent ministry. The Christian story is so rich, far richer than your average figgy pudding, that we do well to not only reflect on it, but enact it.  For to be Christian means not just to assent to a set of beliefs, 100 impossible articles of doctrine and dogma before breakfast as it were, but to take a full part into entering into the ongoing drama of living Christianly. This drama, of course, begins with the welcoming of a baby, the Christ-child, as Messiah and Lord of all.

In many ways this is a remarkable thought: Jesus the living incarnation of God who is, as the letter to the Hebrews puts it, ‘appointed heir of all things,’ and the very ‘reflection of God’s glory and exact imprint of God’s very being,’ comes to earth, to be amongst us, not as some Zeus like figure, not as some Alpha Male strutting his way across the world, but as a tiny baby.

He comes to us as one of us, as God with us, and God for us. Furthermore, as Isaiah stresses he comes for 'all nations’ and ‘all the ends of the earth;’ and yet, despite the universality of his mission or purpose, he comes as a baby; flesh and blood. The fact of Christmas is simply this: that God chose to come amongst us so that he could relate directly to us.

In many ways this is a very hard message to receive or to accept: Surely, we might feel entitled to ask ourselves should God be, well, more ‘god-like,’ bigger, stronger, blazon and empirical? In fact, such is our requirement for a big, glossy and impressive God, a God who is so obviously god-like, that it becomes easier to dismiss the whole story. And, of course we are entitled to do just that for as John’s prologue makes clear: ‘his own people did not accept him.’ But, before we judge his own people you can see their point: baby born in a manger, son of a fairly ordinary couple called Mary and Joseph, who spends his early years running off to the synagogue and acting out the part of a preacher, and who earns his living as a manual labourer isn’t really a compelling narrative. Or, at least it’s not when you want your God to be impressive, Zeus-like, or to be a straightforward empirical fact. It’s not an easy story when what we want is to either make God in our own image, either real or projected, or to make him the ready-made answer to all our problems.

But, let’s pause and think for a minute or so: if God were to be just another Zeus like figure, surely the natural consequence would be that God would ultimately bound to disappoint; after all history tells us that such god-like figures always end up failing to live up to expectations. If God, or the person of Jesus Christ, was just another empirical fact, rather than an articulation of faith, the problem would be one of tyranny; either ours or God’s. For if God, rather than being a person was a fact, free-will would by necessity be entirely lost. We would either be compelled to believe in God, rendering God a tyrant, or to reject God, making us the tyrant. It’s not a very attractive set of propositions is it?

But, what we can do is to simply and faithfully accept the Christmas story. We can choose to believe that Jesus, as ‘the reflection of God’s glory and exact imprint of God’s being’ came to be amongst us; that God chose to enter fully into the human condition, as flesh and blood, as Christ incarnate, as God with us and God for us. For if this is the choice we make, it changes literally everything because to greet and receive Jesus on his terms, on ‘this happy morning’, as John insists, means that we too ‘become children of God;’ agents of ‘grace and truth.’ And, isn’t that what the world needs – isn’t this what we need - this year, next year, and every year: a whole lot more ‘grace and truth.’

As Christians, as those who by faith accept the Christ-story, the story that begins in the most unpromising of circumstances, our job is to be first recipients and then agents of change; instruments of reconcilaition; promoters of peace; advocates for dignity and justice; people of good will, purveyors of ‘grace and truth.’ Our job, having received the Christ-child, is to become Christ-like, ‘full of grace and truth.’

The way we do this is through choosing a deep fascination and enduring faith in the God who came to us at Christmas, not as yet another Zeus like figure, a pop up here today and gone tomorrow ‘god’, but as the Christ-child; the one born in a manger in a far off land; the one with the timeless manifesto; who came for all people, in all places, for all time; the one who is ‘full of grace and truth.’

Happy Christmas

(Amen).

 

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....”

So begins the story…

a story that millions have seen and heard,

a story which is relived in costumes and parties and books and films,

a story which speaks of hope.

A story which, after 42 years, has now come to an end.

 

I haven’t actually seen the new Star Wars film, The Rise of the Skywalker, but I will do, just as I have all the others: and by then I will have spent a little over 25 hours in this galaxy far, far away.  Well, to be honest, a darkened cinema, holding a bucket of popcorn with some mates watching it all happen in front of me. At the end, I shall get up and leave and chat about it with my friends. We will then say our goodbyes and go home. Entertained for a couple of hours but fundamentally unchanged…life will go on.

And that’s what Christmas can be like.

We hear an ancient story. A story that is mysterious, taking place in an unfamiliar land far, far away over two millenia ago. Okay so there are no Ewoks, but there is an evil empire, there are strange visitors: a bunch of shepherds, some foreigners claiming to be wise, and a young couple who have a baby boy.

And this old, old story is:

a story that millions have seen and heard,

a story which is relived in costumes and parties and books and films,

a story which speaks of hope.

But for many, it can remain just that: a story.

A story for others, not them, a story which doesn’t affect us or involve us. We can return to our homes entertained but fundamentally unchanged…life goes on.

But stop.

Tonight, in the midst of the dark of deep midwinter, we are instead invited to be drawn closer into the mystery of the birth of Jesus Christ. We are beckoned to approach His light, the light which is coming into the world and which no darkness can overcome. This light does not merely shine, banishing the darkness away, but it comes to light up our lives and to lead - to lead to a life with God.

God comes into the world as one of us. “He dwelt among us”. Not to stand there, so we can all go ‘wow’. Nor does God come to judge and condemn. But God comes into the world so that he may touch our lives, so he may be more easily known and so that we may be touched by God, to be known by God, to be loved by God. This is what we celebrate this night: God’s coming into the world in Jesus Christ for us.

But we aren’t passive onlookers: we don’t simply watch all this happening and move on. For we are invited to become part of this story. We are not just witnesses to the birth of Jesus but we too can have a new birth in ourselves … that of God as revealed by his Son. Jesus shows us what God is like, and in turn calls us to be like him, doing as he taught us to do: love God and love our neighbour. That’s the way here today we become part of the story: that we hear this news and make it part of our loves. We practise love. Loving God and loving one another.

The world seems to be a place of darkness – and if there’s one thing that we could all do with this Christmas is perhaps more love? For love turns hatred, brings peace, not war, and in place of despair offers hope. I am not so starry eyed that I think love simply solves all in a second and lays ahead a great series of answers. As if, suddenly, we turn to love and somehow all becomes clear. However, by practising love we set ourselves on a different course: a path where we look out for another, tend to each other, care for one other. The other stops being a nameless person but becomes my neighbour.

The light of love is not a gift that God kept to himself but instead gave it to us all in his Son Jesus Christ. The same is true for us: that we who receive this light of love cannot keep it for ourselves but it is a gift to be shared. We are called in this community to light up our homes, our village, our schools, our workplaces, our towns, our world with love. We are to be messengers of hope to others who have not seen the light and love of God, but whose lives are marked by the darkness of despair and dejection. To those, we are to bring the good news of what God has done.

Tonight this story has a new beginning - a new beginning with each of us…not in a galaxy far, far away but right here and now.                                       

Amen

 

Didier Jaquet