Dec 23, 2019
Love Changes everything and on the first Christmas the Loveof God became a human being and did just that. This is a major rewrite and new recording of an earlier Christmas message , in the the context of a difficult couple of years for me personally and in ministry.
***************** Rough text of sermon below.**************
Sermon Love changes everything
There are variety of beliefs in our culture about the Christmas story. Some don’t know the original story of the birth of Jesus. Some people think it’s just made up nonsense. Most active Christians believe as I do that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a borrowed room, perhaps a cave, or a stable or like in the Children’s story in the downstairs animal shelter inside a relative’s house.
There are good reasons for accepting the traditional belief tht the story as we have it in Luke is how it happened. I’ll skip today. Instead I want to talk about how the traditional view is incredibly practical, powerful and transforming. It is a story about love becoming a human being and Love changes everything.
From conception Jesus was both truly human and truly God. Jesus is the Son of God. If you find the Trinity confusing let me give you a simple but only partial explanation. Jesus is God the Son who was with us in history, in a real place in a real time but has always been in a perfect relationship with God the Father. God the Father is God beyond us, in Heaven. Jesus showed us in History that God the Father was like a good, loving, perfect parent. He is theone Jesus called Dad. And the Spirit is God with us and in us. The One who pours the love of God into our hearts and who brings Jesus and all he is and was 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 & love.
While I believe in this mystical stuff, 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 a really human story. A baby is born to a poor-ish 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 nailed to a Roman cross.
We quite rightly think of Jesus’ 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. BUT what makes the life and the death and the birth of Jesus different is that it is at one and the same time, the life and the death and the birth of a real ordinary human being like us AND it is the life and the death and the birth of God. The compassion, the justice, the goodness, and most of all the love of God has become a flesh and blood human being, just like you and me. And that “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 Jesus 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 in that time 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. This is the second last service I will lead in this church and at least part of the reason for that is I have not been a success, I have not built this congregation up, it can no longer afford to pay me. Who am I that God should trust me with this message of reconciliation, to be a pastor of this little flock. 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, the message for me, the message for everyone, 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 like those shepherds are the bearers of the Good News - we, all the members of every church of every kind from the pew sitter, to the leaders and elders, ministers pastors and priests, 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, and even for many who do not but are touched by those who do, love truly does change everything.
I have been transformed by two great loves in my life. The first and most important was when as a bullied teenager I first really grasped how much God loved me, and included me. My understanding of that love has deepened as the years have gone on. The second is the love of my wife Heather, that another human being should trust herself to me body and soul and that she would accept me body and soul is the greatest and most profound privilege.
In Jesus this is what God has done for us trusted himself to our human care, body and soul, become one of us, a baby in a feed trough, so that we would know his divine love and care. And that love changes everything!