Dec 19, 2011
Readings: Isaiah 9: 2 - 7, Titus 2: 11 - 14, Luke 2: 1 - 20
The movie Pay it Forward is about a boy who comes up with an idea to change the world. Do three deliberate acts of kindness for three people. If those three people then do the same by “paying it forward” then those people do the same again, eventually the world will be transformed. The boy does his three acts of kindness. They all seem to fall flat. He is discouraged, and the story finally finishes with his death when he tries to go to the aid of a boy who is being bullied and he is stabbed. It seems that his idea to transform the world has come to nothing, but years later these deliberate acts of kindness touch a journalist and he follows the story back to the boy. Many lives have been transformed.
The story of the movie is not a true story, but it was inspired by a real but less dramatic one. The author of the book on which the story is based, was rescued from her burning car by complete strangers. They saved her life but she was not in a position to pay them back, so she decided she would pay the kindness forward, doing deliberate acts of kindness for other people. She also decided that she would write the book which became the movie.
In parts of the world the idea of the boy was taken up in real life and today a "pay it forward" foundation and movement exists. People have received kindnesses and pass them on to three others. This movement had a transforming effect on at least one town in the United States, the town of Syracuse.
What has all this got to do with Christmas. Well if you know the story of Jesus well the story central to the Christian faith you will see parallels in the story of Jesus who is born as a baby boy, comes up with the idea that people should love each other and then dies on a cross of wood. All the healings, all the teaching he had done, all the acts of kindness he had been involved in seemed to die with him. It seemed that all that he had taught and done had come to nothing in his death. Yet the first Christians and those who came after them who through the bible tell us the story of the first Christmas believed that in a shed in a feed trough in Bethlehem God had done us an enormous act of deliberate kindness.
God had come among us in Jesus, to show us kindness, to call us to change our lives into lives of goodness and love for others. He also showed us that while God was good and just, God was also loving and merciful. He called us to love all people and lived this out by example. Through his birth, life, teaching, kindness and death, these first Christians believed that God had come close to us and brought us healing and wholeness. This is my belief too and part of my story. I believe that God came amongst us and is still with us today and has brought me healing and wholeness. I believe that, that story has to do with Jesus’ birth 2000 years ago and all that followed it.
This story of God coming and being among us has inspired millions of people to billions of acts of kindness. There are religious organisations like the Salvation Army, and St Vincent de Paul. There are other organisations which are no longer outwardly Christian or religious like the Red Cross founded by a devout Christian, The Royal Flying Doctor Service, Lifeline. There is St Stephen’s own Meals on Wheels here in Toowoomba and the marvellous legacy of Cec Shannon. But there are less obvious things, the first free education the first hospitals, Florence Nightingale and the beginnings of the nursing movement, the abolition of slavery in the UK and the United States - all these thing were driven in very large part by Christians who were in turn inspired by this story and because they felt God had given them an enormous gift in Jesus, a gift they could not repay, they felt that they should pass that gift on. They felt they should pay it forward.
One individual who was inspired by this story is known to us today as Santa Clause. I don’t know how he got to the North Pole but Santa began as Nicholas a church leader in Turkey. He helped out a poor family with a gift of silver, which he secretly delivered in the night around Christmas time. His gift was inspired by God’s gift to us of Jesus and he was paying it forward to this needy family. To quote one of our Bible readings from today from a simple English version. Speaking about Jesus the writer says...
"God has shown us how kind he is by coming to save all people. He taught us to... live decent and honest lives in this world. We are filled with hope, as we wait ... He gave himself to rescue us from everything that is evil and to make our hearts pure. He wanted us to be his own people and to be eager to do right. " (Titus 2:11–14, CEV)
God has done us this great kindness in Jesus, a kindness we can not repay. God has given us the incredible gift of unconditional love. God has given us himself. So like Nicholas, Rev. Martin Luther King, William Wilberforce, Cec Shannon, my parents and Sunday school teachers who taught me about God’s love, like the author of Pay it Forward, we should pay God’s gift, God’s love to us forward, by giving gifts of love and service to others. Amen