Jan 6, 2011
Readings: 1st Reading Titus 3:4-7 Luke 2:(1-7), 8-20
Preached at St Stephen's Toowoomba Australia Christmas Day 2010
Christmas is all about Presence. Let me spell that - it’s presence. Not Presents. It is about how God is with us, with us all. Indeed God’s greatest Christmas present to us is his presence - God is with us. I hope this does not sound strange to you but it might because somewhere in the history of the church a notion of God arose which said that God was a harsh vengeful spoil sport who lived way up in heaven and looked down upon us with distain, waiting for us to set a foot wrong and when we did the thunderbolts would reign down. At least some members of some churches lived in fear of hell and damnation as Bible Bashing preachers thundered at them from high and mighty pulpits.
I’m reminded of the joke....
The story of Jesus especially the story of Christmas is a story about how God is not far away but is close at hand and no matter how humble or far away any person or situation might seem God is there.
Think about the story of the first Christmas we just heard from Luke. Where does God’s promise and hope first shine in the world. As we saw in the Children’s story, it is not in a palace, or in a great city. It is in a manger, a feed trough. A box thing, probably full of hay or straw and cow slobber. It is in a stable, probably with animals along side. It’s in a smallish village and not in a great city.
And what sort of a family is this child born into. Where does the sign of God’s presence among us make his beginning. Not a royal one or the family of a great Rabbi, a great teacher, but the family of a carpenter, possibly more something of an odd jobs man - than the sort tradesman we might think of today.
And as the story goes on - who are the first witnesses to this child’s birth. They are not kings or nobles or princes. They are not priests, or wealthy land owners, or traders. They are not officers of the guard or government officials. The first witnesses in the story as we have it are Shepherds. Now in Australia we think of stockmen and drovers as romantic figures.... At the time of the birth of Jesus this was not so. Worked on Sabath... couldn’t sacrifice at the temple... not clean... excluded...
If we look further on into Jesus’ life we see the same pattern when he is an adult. He touches lepers and sick people, he mixes with tax collectors and prostitutes. He was available for all. He sat down at the table with the rich and the humble alike. His disciples were a motley crew of fishermen, tax collectors and so on, not well educated preachers like me.
If you ask any Christian to tell you what God is like sooner or later we will start talking about Jesus, and what do we see God is like from Jesus’ life, death, teaching, etc. Well despite all I’ve said, I don’t want to fool you. Jesus certainly had some harsh words to say especially about religious hypocrites. He demanded that we live an ethical life, and that we should love our neighbour, even if that ends up being very costly. But we also see that God is prepared to rub shoulders with tradesmen, labourers, fishermen, tax collector, lepers, prostitutes and others on the edge of the community. And not just with them God is prepared to rub shoulders and eat with the wealthy and educated too. In fact no one is left out. God is present and available for everyone. Male and female, rich and poor, young and old, weak and powerful. God is available and present for all. This is the picture we see in the life of Jesus.
In the story we heard - all this starts in a feed trough with some shepherds, and a peasant couple, and a helpless baby. God shows himself in this most unlikely of places. If God is available there God surely must be available, must be present here too. This is a big part of what we Christians celebrate at this time of year. And this idea that God is present and available to everyone was really a new idea.
That would be enough to celebrate this Christmas Day, but there’s more. I said a moment ago that the shepherds were from the edge of society. Because of their lifestyle they were thought of as sinners. In this story about the shepherds then, it is no good rotten people, who are the first to have this insight into God. They are the first to discover that God is present for everyone - not only is God with rich and poor, God is also with the sinners as well as the righteous.
I know that there are some of you who only come to church occasionally. I could make a joke of that and say don’t worry the roof wont fall in, look how solid the beams are. It’s an old joke, or saying that I hear from people - "I wouldn’t go into church because the roof would fall in on me." If the reason that any of you don’t come to church so often is that you don’t think you are good or holy enough, just look at who the first worshippers were! God is here for everyone, and I mean everyone!
You see the God we Christians worship is not some far away being waiting for someone suitably sinful to walk into a church so he can bring the roof down on them. The God we worship was revealed in a child born in a stable and laid in a feed trough. It was dirty sinful shepherds who were the first witnesses to this truth, not clean cut self righteous preachers like me.
That’s what and who we celebrate today, yes, our God of justice and power, but also our God of mercy and compassion. Who is present for all who would have him. Even if you feel your life is like a tumble down old stable, God still wants to be present with you, be born in you, make his home in you today.
This is the present, the gift of God we celebrate today, the presence of God, for every one of us no matter how humble or great or sinful. Amen