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A sermon for Christmas

A Happy and blessed Christmas to all Paxtonvic readers!

So far on this Christmas Eve Im sure in keeping with many other churches up and down the country we have had a large number of people at our carol services. 200 at Little Paxton ( how did we get you all in??) andc 150 at Great Paxton. Wonderful singing and atmosphere!

Now it time for Holy Communion at Diddington at 8.15am and then The First Communion at Little Paxton at 10.00am and then at Great Paxton at 11.30am.

Here is my Christmas sermon offering… I hope you find encouragement in its message.

Christmas Homily for 2011 at the Paxtons.

“ Be not afraid; for behold 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”

How many of you have a mobile phone in your pocket or bag tonight? Hands up… be honest! Have you switched it off? Is it on silent or vibrate?  Anyone got it on just incase a message comes through?

Or even if you get bored five minutes into my sermon you might be tempted to see if anyone has tweeted you. Dare anyone to tweet a friend and say how much they are enjoying themselves here right now!

30 years ago when I first preached a Christmas sermon as a Lay Reader, I wouldn’t have had a clue as to what a mobile phone was, or indeed what a tweet was, what facebook meant or what sort of message was sent by messenger.  E-mail wasn’t the popular and easily accessible way of communicating that we know now and back in 1981 texting hadn’t been invented. If you wanted to get a message to someone, it was phone or letter or telegram  or maybe even going to see them and speaking directly to them. Our ability to send messages to one another has completely changed in a phenomenal way in 30 years… whether or not we actually take on board a fraction of the messages we hear and read day by day I’m not so sure.

If you take a walk out on the streets of our towns you will see a large number of people either on their phone texting or talking. That happens everywhere….and it isn’t  just something that younger people do either.

We like to be in touch. We like to be able to receive important messages from family and friends or from our workplace. We like to tell others where we are or what we are doing. We like to be connected.  They are all about communication and used well and wisely, and certainly not in a car, they remind us that we are social creatures, made to be in touch with each other , made to have relationships and to live in community. The poet John Donne wrote that no man is an island and in the bible we read how God created us for  a whole variety of relationships where love is given and received.

There is a good deal of communication going on tonight and that isn’t anything to do with mobile phones. Indeed, when Jesus was born 2,000 years ago in Bethlehem so much of the modern technology we take for granted was unheard of. The story of Jesus of course could only be transmitted by word of mouth, by people travelling and telling others of the good news of his life, death and resurrection. It was only c 50 years after his resurrection that letters and gospels began to be written.

But God had his ways and means. If you reread the Gospels of Luke and Matthew this Christmas in a quiet moment, especially the opening chapters, you will find God’s messengers were hard at work. Nothing to do with internet messaging either. These were angels… and angel literally means messenger. I wonder of you knew that? An angel was believed to bring the word of God to people and that certainly was what happened in the Nativity story.

The Archangel Gabriel comes to Mary with a message of overwhelming significance. She at first is filled with fear. It wasn’t something she could easily delete from her consciousness. She is only 12-13 years old but she is told that she is to give birth to Gods son, The Messiah, and that Gods Spirit would cause this to happen. This was not a good message for a young unmarried girl to receive at all. She could be stoned if pregnant out of wedlock. And yet we read she gives her assent and presses the reply button in her heart with little hesitation.  “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”

Joseph, to whom she is engaged needed a message as well for he was on the verge of divorcing her when he received a message from an angel in his sleep  “ do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit”. He was convinced he must marry Mary.

We fast forward 9 months or so later. Mary and Joseph have made it to Bethlehem where they have been ordered to go for a census. It wasn’t possible in those days to book accommodation online and get a last minute deal. We get the impression that they just turned up hoping to find somewhere to rest. We know the story so well. There was no room at the Inn and they end up in a stable where Jesus was born. You would think that no one else would have known about this at all. Joseph couldn’t text their families to say they were grandparents. He couldn’t take an instant picture of the infant on his iphone and send it round the world. And yet, something very strange happens. They find they do have visitors, and unlikely ones at that.

For out in some Bethlehem fields  shepherds are suddenly confronted with an angel … another messenger from God and like Mary they were filled with fear.

“ Fear not, said he, for mighty dread had seized their troubled minds” so runs the famous carol words. But the messenger brings tidings of great joy to them, he tells them not to be afraid for he brings good news of great joy….. for to you is born in the city of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.”

As if to underline this amazing news, the messenger is joined with a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying  “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth”.

Again, these shepherds have like Mary no hesitation in obeying the messenger and off they go in haste to find the Christ child.

Before we leave the nativity story, I must make mention of the wise men, The Magi who inevitably pop up in all the nativity plays even though it might have been some time later when they visited the holy family. Matthew records that they were guided by a star to the place where Jesus lay: God communicating with these astrologers in a way they would readily understand. Matthew also tells us that Joseph had more angelic messages keeping the holy family safe from the paranoid King Herod and taking them to Egypt until settling in Nazareth.

Tonight, no less than 2,000 years ago, I believe that God longs to communicate with us and be in relationship with us. I doubt of many of us see angels but God longs to communicate with us in all sorts of ways.

I truly hope that the Christian Community  here St James  faithfully communicates in its weekly life the Good News of Gods love for each and every one of us in Jesus Christ. That striving to proclaim the Gospel, The Good News, is called our mission and we would love a lot more of you to join us in that sometimes daunting job of being God’s messengers. We certainly aren’t angels and you don’t have to be one to be about the business of mission. Sometimes people think mission is all about bible bashing and indoctrination and believing a whole load of “thou shalt nots”. It’s true we have our ancient creed and we shall say that together shortly.  But maybe St Francis of Assisi got it right when he said “Preach the gospel always; when necessary use words.”

Caring for others, promoting activities which bring people together, giving hospitality, encouraging creativity and building up community life can all be a part of mission which has Gods loving heart beating at the centre. When our nave is reordered in 2012 we hope that this ancient building which has witnessed to Gods love for 900 years will truly come alive with messages from God. We hope it truly becomes community space, open and welcoming space where people draw closer to Him in whom we have our being and in whom we find meaning and purpose.

Our bells, our wonderful bells are ringing out again. They were an ancient means of communication across a parish when people didn’t have watches and phones and radios.  Bells would summons workers in from the fields to church prayers, they announced when someone had died and rang as the bread and wine were being blessed; and they had many other functions as well. I hope they inspire those who hear them to keep alive the “rumour of God” and think on things holy and wholesome as they go about their daily lives. And even come to church and enjoy being there! You might like to know that there is an old Ukranian legend that says every bell in the world rang in honour of Jesus on the night of his birth.

And what about you and me? What may God be wanting to say to us tonight? What might God have been trying to say to us this year? What things have happened to you which have perplexed you or made you sad? Perhaps the messages you have had have been baffling or confusing?  Christmas is a wonderful time to remember the constant  message of the angels “ Be not afraid; I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people … for to you is born this day a saviour”

That message to the shepherds is for all of us for all time… to all people. “ Do not be afraid: I bring you good news”

Pray these Christmas Days. Pray that God will draw close to you. He longs to. May he draw close to all of us as we join together presently to receive bread and wine; bread and wine representing  Christ’s real spiritual presence with us now. May he be close to us as we open our presents tomorrow morning and share in all the fun, food and games of Christmas Day. May our prayers encompass too all those for whom a message from God seems a distant thing and where grief or sin or some barrier stops his light from entering in.

“ Be not afraid; I bring you good news of great joy which will come to all people … for to you is born this day a saviour”

May the peace, love and joy of the Christ Child be yours this Christmas time.  May we hear God speaking to us these coming days and may our reply be without hesitation  “message received… here I am Lord. I’m here to do your will” Amen.

December 24, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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