Fr David’s sermon on Christmas Day 2015
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” (John)
I was asked by a helpful shop assistant in Waitrose a couple of days ago: “So, did you find what you were looking for?” How many times have you heard this over the past few weeks during the shopping forays and the preparations for Christmas? Have you found what you were looking for? And then over the next few days: Did you get what you wanted?
But on this Christmas Day – it is a good question to ask: Did you find what you were looking for? Once again, we hear the familiar story of an unmarried, pregnant teenage mother, whose husband is not the father of her child, struggling on a journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem to have their heads counted by their Roman overlords. But owing to the crowds – bigger than any we have seen in Waitrose over the past few days – they are forced to bed down for the night in the animal shed round the back. The baby is born, and at the same time, on the surrounding hills, a group of farmhands, who are forced to be out all night to care for the sheep (such animals are a valuable commercial asset) receive a strange message from God. Remember, shepherds were despised as misfits, ostracised and branded as sinners by the Jews, as they were not ever free to attend worship in the Temple. So they go and check it out – and they find things just as they were reported to them. They found what they were looking for. But what did it mean? What was it all about?
The Christmas story tells us what happened – but we need to ask another question – why did it happen? Why was God born as a baby in poverty in a borrowed shed?
Well precisely, because we live in a world that is a mess. It was then, two thousand years ago and is now. Look around us –the news, the internet, our own personal experience of the challenge and pain in our daily living. Life can be hard, sometimes we don’t know where to turn; we don’t know what we are looking for, but we know we are looking for something. You remember those Eurythmics’ lyrics from the Eighties?
“Sweet dreams are made of this…
I travel the world and the seven seas
Everybody’s looking for something…”
Well God, who is pure unconditional love, appeared among us in human flesh. God is looking for us.
You are all here, in this church, on this Christmas Day. Why did you come? Of course, there may be many reasons – you want to be here; you are here because you have come with the family; it’s Christmas; you like carols; you are curious; someone asked you to; someone told you too… whatever the reason you are here – pause and consider the question: what are you looking for?
If we are being honest, we all have a deep longing in our lives, as human beings we are aware of our fragility, are weaknesses, our vulnerability – the temptation to run away from this question and fill our lives with something that will fix us, will fill the gap, is great. It is natural: we are human. The whole point of Christmas, is that God knows that. And what is more, he came to be like us. In that manger, we see a poor, weak, defenceless, dependable baby, stretching out his arms towards us looking for our response. God is not only spirit, God is also flesh. Christmas reminds us that God speaks to us through the deep experience of being human. God speaks to us in the way we have the strength and courage to care for one another, forgive one another, love one another. We are given the gift to look into one another’s eyes and see in the faces of each other, God’s beautiful idea. That is the true gift of Christmas – and it is given, freely, as a gift to every one of us. Did you find what you are looking for?
No matter what your life circumstances are this day, God has called you here, this Christmas Day to speak a word of eternal life and love to you – he spoke that word in the form of a baby:
John Betjemann put it well at the conclusion of his poem Christmas:
‘…No carolling in frosty air,
nor all the steeple shaking bells
can with this single truth compare,
that God was man in Palestine
and lives today in bread and wine.’
So come. Come to this Table. Come as you are. Come with open hands and open hearts, and you will find what you are looking for. Amen.