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Its snowing on my blog!! – and a Christmas sermon

Clever, isnt it! Real life snow!

Been typing away with some  ideas  for a Christmas sermon – and here are some draft thoughts. I must admit that if anyone else asks me “are you ready for Chrismas” I may just say…… ” And what would  happen if I wasnt?” What quite does it mean to be ready? All the cards written, food bought in, all persons who need to be present, present…. decorations all hung up….. ? I rather think we can never really be readyfor the real gift of Christmas – to welcome Jesus afresh into our lives.

Sermon for  Christmas Eve – Great Paxton 2009.

“The Times Newspaper 1996 – Christmas Eve.”

“ A letter that Santa Claus never received fluttered down the chimney of a cottage 85 years after it was “ posted” there by 9 year old Mabel Higgs. On 8th December 1911 she pushed her beautifully composed request, on four pages of an exercise book, up the flue in her bedroom. There it remained hidden, among the gathering dust and falling sticks from Jackdaw’s nests, singed by a hot cinder in one place, but otherwise intact. The letter came to light when the chimney was cleaned 85 years later! “

By the way, apparently, when most houses had real, open fires, parents would help their children post letters up the chimney. They  were carried upwards by the draught from below.

The letter to Santa read as follows:

“ Dear Santa Claus

“ Last year you brought me many nice presents and I think that you were very kind indeed. I expect you would like to know what I should like you to bring me this year. Well, I should like you to bring me a storybook, a postcard album and a box of chocolates. We have a little baby and we would like you to bring her a rattle that will blow. I hope you will remember the very poor children in the slums and large towns. I might stay awake for sometime to see you come in our bedroom to put things in my stocking the night you come. Our house is on the common. With much love, I remain your little friend, Mabel.

It’s always rather exciting I think to find something from the past, something which has been hidden for a long time.  As some of you will know, when we were excavating the tower base floor in  September, we found some intriguing pieces of ancient stone buried so as to form an old floor from which the ringers used to ring. Some of them had been worked and may well have formed part of an older section of the building or maybe were rejects from some stage or other of the ancient minsters’ formation.  There’s one big slab at the back with a section cut out – anyone’s guess what that was. For some weeks the stones intrigued us and were even recorded by an archaeology unit. Other mysteries no doubt also lay under the ground here on this site and one day may come to light. It is perhaps inevitable that when major work is done to a church, things come to light that had been hidden by successive generations.

There’s huge amount of surprise- and delight of the deepest significance- in the Christmas story. Commercialism may in many respects have captured Christmas and the true meaning of Christ’s birth. In an attempt to be terribly PC, there has been a move also to play down the uniqueness of the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas, or at least a wish to highlight the winter festivals of other faiths as well, such as the Hindu festival of Dwali.

But there is a great depth of meaning for us to rediscover anew right now in the Christmas Story as we worship together.

Mary, the young Palestinian girl who was going about her everyday life when an angel came to her and said “ Hail! O favoured one, the Lord is with you!”

Surprised? She was terrified  “ Greatly troubled”  Luke writes– no wonder the angel followed his opening greeting with  “ Do not be afraid, Mary”   We can only imagine the consternation of her espoused husband  to be, Joseph– not to mention her family ( who incidentally don’t get a mention). Matthew tells us that Joseph was so concerned that he was going to divorce Mary quietly but a powerful dream of an angel explaining God’s plan stopped him.

The characters in the nativity story given to us by Luke and Matthew (and they don’t both carry the same report) all have their own surprises.

The shepherds, ordinary hard working farming people of their time were, like Mary, quietly getting on with their business of watching their flocks by night when an angel appears to them – flooding their space with divine light. Naturally we are told they were filled with fear. And what are those words again – spoken by the angel? “ Be not afraid – for I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people – for to you is born this day in the city of David a  Saviour who is Christ the Lord”

The shepherds must have been amazed – but the divine theatricals hadn’t finished yet – as next came a whole heavenly host praising God “ Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth!”

Like Mary, they gave their assent to what they had been told- and obeying Gods will in this night of surprises hurried their way to Bethlehem.

Then what about the stable scene – the place of the birth of the Messiah, the Son of God? The place, indeed, where God came fully to  earth to dwell among us – Emmanuel- God with us.  The religious authorities of the time could not have conceived of the Messiah being born in a stable, amongst animal smells and the cold of the night.  But then, some 33 years later, they could not have conceived of the Messiah being crucified and dying a criminal’s death.  God turned all expectations upside down when he came as a helpless baby in that Bethlehem stable, born to poor parents who had come to town for a tax census. God turned all expectations upside down when he allowed himself to be tortured on a cross, made fun of and endure all the worst that human suffering could throw at him.  Surprising? Surprising in the extreme. Impossible – some have always said. But maybe God acts in ways that are designed to shock us out of our familiar patterns  of thinking and believing and make us encounter Him in a new way.

Then there were those Magi – the wisemen of indeterminate number-

astrologers who knew a strange star when they saw one. This star in the east was tantalisingly different – and surprised by its appearance they just had to follow it. We are told they encountered the nervous and threatening Herod on their way and managed to side step him neatly having had a dream of warning about his intentions. But their reaction to finding the child Jesus with his mother? Pure adoration – they fell down and worshipped him , and  intuitively knowing that this was no ordinary baby had prepared symbolic and costly gifts for him. (Their surprise and delight was intense – and as TS Eliott suggests in his poem about the Magi – their encounter with Jesus must have changed them for ever)

So, the nativity story is full of surprises – as indeed Jesus’ whole life was to present people with a series of surprises and challenges. This came to a climax with his crucifixion and resurrection. Unbelievable, just as unbelievable as God coming to earth as a tiny baby. Yet generations of Christians  have believed God works with the unbelievable. Faith must take risks and trust in what seems impossible.

If you and I look back over this last year, I expect we shall all reflect on surprises that have come our way – some good and some more hard to cope with.

Maybe you have encountered changes and surprises in your personal lives which have left you perhaps struggling at times and rejoicing at others.

I am convinced that part of the great mystery of God at work in the world, is his seeking to touch our lives if we sincerely and genuinely ask him for his guidance and direction.

His love for us can take many guises and can surprise us in unexpected ways. In turn he asks for our willingness to serve him and share the love he gives to us with others who perhaps find Gods reality distant and hard to grasp.

So here is one “take” on the Christmas message. That God is a God of surprises. He takes the form of a helpless baby. He dies on a cross. He immerses himself in all the business of the world, all the creativity and love, but also all the hatred, all the pain- and pain can be a terrible thing- all the mess and all the deep injustice. All the bewilderment which follows natural disasters and the outworkingsof human evil.  He says in his coming:  be ready to be surprised, there is always hope, always forgiveness, there always will be resurrection no matter how many nails have been hammered into you and no matter how deep the waves of desperation may be in a human soul or in the heart of a community.

May we all pray that the God of Surprises will be born anew in our hearts this Christmas time, that we may be just as surprised and filled with joy and love as all those visitors to the stable were 2000 years ago.

May we feel inspired with the simple  sentiments of little  Mabel Higgs all those years ago to ask not Santa but our Father God to draw close to those suffering in a world tonight which can in turn seem so beautiful but also so full of pain.

May the  hope, joy  and peace Christ carry forward into our lives as we journey on into a New Year. Amen.

December 21, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

2 Comments »

  1. I just fell upon your site. I was looking for a nativity scene for a book I was making for a friend. A friend that
    helped me to know Jesus..

    And her last name is Reed, how funny is that.
    Until heaven…. RAPTURE !
    with love..
    I couldn’t leave your site without saying hello and God Bless.

    Comment by Paula | June 7, 2010 | Reply

  2. Looking for Christmas cards with a nativity design brought me to your site. What a gorgeous picture! Your words on Christmas are truly INSPIRED. I WISh I could send this message to everyone on my list. It’s perfect. A little long for a card, but it says it all. Beautiful!!! Thankyou!

    Comment by Carol | November 10, 2010 | Reply


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