Sermon, Christmas Day, 2019, St Petri.
Isaiah 62:6-12 6 I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, 7 and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth. 8 The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: ‘Never again will I give your grain as food for your enemies, and never again will foreigners drink the new wine for which you have toiled; 12 They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord; and you will be called Sought After, the City No Longer Deserted. Titus 3:4-7 Saved by God’s love 4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, 7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. https://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/20191225_message.mp3
I have often noted those signs lots of church folks make calling for our community to ‘put Christ back in Christmas’. I resonate with that sentiment, but I am unsure about the effectiveness of making signs like this.
I hear the songs and the messages of Christmas everywhere you go, and I try and try to understand what the core message is in what Christmas has now become in 21st Century Australia.
I think it is something like this: “If we get together and work really hard, we can make the world a better place”. It almost sounds a bit of carryover from that old song “We are the World” sung at the Live Aid concert back in the 80’s. “We are the world. We are the children. We are the ones who can make a brighter day, so let’s start giving….”
It seems that we want to believe that we can be and should be all we need on planet earth.
It is an attractive message. The thought of us all banding together, putting away our differences and working together to save the planet or end poverty or bring fairness back to our community, end racism, give people a fair go is attractive. We know we really do need these things – less harm, less injustice, less poverty, less carbon emissions, less hatred, less terrorism, less violence, less greed, less inequality.
Even though we have a good sense about what we need, I wonder something. I wonder if as we sing those songs everywhere at Christmas and speak that popular message, often without even being aware of it, we sort of ‘sing over’ and ‘pass over’ the very seeds of hope that give us THE hope for lasting change we know we need.
“Peace on earth. Goodwill toward all people. A Saviour is here”….
“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells…….”
“Silent night, Holy Night, love’s pure light. Glory streams from his holy face with the dawn of redeeming grace….”.
“Deck the Halls with boughs of holly, Fa la la la la….”
Sometimes I reckon we Aussies are like a puppy frantically ripping up the back yard looking for a yummy bone that is not there while our yummy bowl of Pal sits waiting for us on the patio.
So sure are we that we can find the bone, we miss the better food. So convinced are we that getting the food is within our control that we miss the gift of our owner giving us real food that will truly sustain us.
And along he comes again this Christmas, offering us everything we actually need for life and love and peace in all we face. Peace refuses to be sung over altogether! Jesus pops out of the music in the shops if you have ears to hear. Those seeds of hope and grace for our worrying future germinate again.
Jesus, THE hope, arrives on our doorstep in a way we can really get – a baby born in real time to real people in real history. And this baby promises an end to all that we long for to be ended and to give all we long for to be in us.
But will we receive him? Will we give up our frantic searching in the dirt and let him feed us the good stuff that only he provides; the stuff that makes for lasting and complete change for the good?
You’d think it would be easy. But I think we know the problem. The problem is we are not the world, even if we have been given the whole world as a gift. Our fullest hope is not what we give but what we receive from Him who gives us this boy and his story.
Like the people of the ancient city, Jerusalem, to whom Isaiah speaks, we need some intervention by Another to save the day and save us.
Oh, but that takes humility. But, when the crisis gets deep enough, the humility gets real enough! Is it real enough for you this morning?
In Isaiah’s time, God’s community had finally gotten close to stopping searching for that bone of self-help when Isaiah announced the Lord’s hope.
They were beginning to see that there was no bone to be found that was going to save them from starvation and death. They had finally started to see the futility of making deals with other countries, making deals with themselves, making deals with God: trying to be holy to get him to help.
They were under siege and running out of options. I wonder if we feel like that in the face of our shaky ecological future and our repeated bad behaviour as human beings?
If we do, will we continue to make deals or will we let this Intervention in a shed deal with us?
To people feeling the siege, Isaiah announces God’s intervention.
6 I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.
And even more now; now a fuller and complete intervention than Isaiah could even know comes in this Christmas child:
4 But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
God is intervening again today. His intervention is driven by mercy and kindness. This is no mere outward help. This boy is God’s loving and kind presence in a way we can carry it, know it, feel it, touch it, smell it, hear it, and it is an act of love – the best love; self-sacrificing love.
This baby boy is God’s intervention not just in a mighty army or a better technology or a more stable climate or favourable political fortune.
This intervention into our searching is of the heart – personal transformation from inside out. Resurrection from self-focus and all our fears to facing the world with others in his freedom and joy.
It is so full and so effective because it is being re-born; starting from a new place, a new heart, and bringing a new future.
He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
All the frantic searching, the missing the real food, the singing over the truth, the denial of what is actually really good for us is washed away like dirt on our hands under a tap.
Those seeds of his truth passed over as we shop spring up to become THE song, THE story, THE hope for peace again.
We are made clean and new and we live new. Like the shepherds, the easterners, the parents, we are just with him in the moment marvelling at how he loves us and how he loves his broken world.
And what about those signs to put Christ back in Christmas?
We don’t need them.
We don’t need to put the Christ back into Christmas. He is already there.
And we need more than signs on a wall or a website. We are the signs. By this total washing of rebirth, we are the sign that makes us his living sign of Jesus in Christmas.
Friend, you are his sign.
You are the Christ in Christmas because;
“in his kindness he saved you by the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on you generously so that, having been made holy and pleasing by his grace, you are an heir of all his promises of hope”.
Friend, watch out for others on these city walls. He has posted you here.
Be part of his new community which he is establishing to make him the praise of planet earth.
Be his living sign of hope as you sing his song, speak his words, love his people.
Sing his song. Stand your post with joy.
He will not rest until his kingdom is established.