Dec 20, 2013
There are variety of beliefs in our congregation about the Christmas story. Most of the members believe as I do that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a borrowed room, or to be more precise a stable. There are a few though who believe that the stories of the birth in the Bible are symbolic stories which like fable or fairytales tell us a symbolic truth. They are a reflection on what the second generation of believers thought about who Jesus was. I don’t share that view but I did just want to be a little brave today and mention that point of view with you all before doing talking about what I believe and how it can transform lives. For I believe that Love changes everything.
As I said a little earlier I have a much more conventional view of the first Christmas. I believe that from conception Jesus was both truly human and truly God. I believe in the Trinity - That God is eternally relational. The Son has always been the son of the Father and the Spirit has always been the one who stands alongside, the counsellor, or friend. The One who pours the love of God into our hearts and who brings Christ to mind as well as well as empowering and gifting the Church in order that it may be an expression or signpost to God’s presence. I believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.]
[But] if you stop for a moment and think of the beginning of the Jesus story in human terms, it’s a remarkable story, but apart from the angels it’s not really a supernatural or magical story. A baby is born to a poorish family and laid in a feed trough in a small village. And the only other witnesses are some animals and some shepherds. This baby boy grows up to be a man, he becomes a rabbi, a teacher, and for a time has a significant following and then he dies alone on a Roman cross. We quite rightly think of the cross as something special, but it was a common means of execution. Anyone who was a murderer or a rebel against the Roman Empire could be put to death on a cross and years later under the Emperor Nero it is said that whole streets were lined with Christians nailed to crosses falsely accused of starting the fire that destroyed Rome.
The life of Jesus began with birth and ended in death and this happens to all human beings and will happen to us, our lives began with birth and will end in death. What makes the life and the death and the birth of Jesus different is that it not only reveals but it gives us the love, grace and forgiveness of God. More than that it gives us new life.
There is a Christmas carol which puts it like this. Love came down at Christmas, love all lovely, love divine. Straight after the sermon I’m going to get Heather my wife to sing a secular song, which says it another way. Love changes everything, nothing in this world will ever be the same.
I believe that lots of things in this world have changed because God truly became one of us in Jesus. I believe that things such as free education, the abolition of slavery, the notion of the equal dignity of every human being that there is no distinction between jew and gentile slave or free male or female for all are one in Christ Jesus and various civil rights movements that have followed it, all began in Jesus. I believe that when this baby grew up and touched and healed the leper and ate with the tax collectors and the prostitutes that God was touching. sitting and eating with people like us.
More than this I believe when he confronted the crowds and the religious authorities and said you must love your enemies, turn the other cheek, have compassion on the needy and do not serve yourselves it was God saying it. Saying it to them and to us - we are all sinners, condemned for our lack of love. We all need forgiveness. In a profound way on Christmas Day compassion entered the world, in a way it had not been there before. I believe that when he said from the cross father forgive them God was saying it, saying it for all of us whose sin brought the Son to the cradle and to the cross.
Love changes everything. We remember the shepherds in the story we just read as good figures but there would have been some Jewish people who would have been shocked that they were the first witnesses. Shepherds had to work on the Sabbath, they had to work away and could not get to the Synagogue, they could not get to Jerusalem for the major festivals as good Jews were required to do. They were unclean. Yet they witnessed God in a feed trough. The creator of the universe become part of creation. They witnessed the Love of God in human form. Today instead of despising them we honour them as the first evangelists. Dirty grubby shepherds witness the glory of God. A feed trough becomes throne, a cross becomes the sign and instrument of our forgiveness and God’s love and a tomb becomes the place where we receive new life. Love changes everything.
I don’t know about you but there are times when I feel like a fraud. I feel like the grubby shepherds or the like a run down stable. I see all my faults and all my failures. I see the struggles I’ve had over the years with self esteem. I see that by worldly standards I have not been a great success. Who am I that God should trust me with this message of reconciliation. I’m sure there are some of you, even some of you who have been very successful in work or life who sometimes feel the same. The message for you, is that love changes everything, the stable is a palace, the feed trough is a throne, the dirty shepherds are the first evangelists and you and I are the bearers of the Good News - we, all the members of the church from the pew sitter, to the leaders and elders, ministers pastors and priest , sinners though we are, are the Children and the temple and the messengers of God. For every person who has faith in the baby in the manger, love truly does change everything.