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Christmas Sermon 2012 from Paxtonvic

Sermon for Christmas 2012.

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This week’s edition of the Hunts post carried a fascinating cover story about a Pioneering 1902 festive recording found in an attic in a St Neots home.

 A  machine, known as a phonograph, was uncovered during a clear out and with it were wax cylinders that contain audio material dating back to 1899. One of the cylinders features speeches and musical recordings made during a family Christmas of 1902.  100 years ago.

Experts have studied the cylinders and believe them to be the oldest Christmas recordings discovered.

The article reports how the cylinders got from a St Neots’ man’s attic to the  Museum of London  and scientists finally managed to play these sounds from the past earlier this year

. The family who can be heard enjoying their Christmas celebrations were the Wall family of London  and the recordings contain lots of chatting and singing and a young lad with a rendition of a  a song called the Minstrel Boy which became very popular during the 1st world war.

The family even used to wheel the heavy recording machine down to their local church in Southgate in London to record the bells ringing.

How I would love to be able to turn the clock back and hear my ancestors talking and singing on Christmas day 1902. They were from London too, but many of them were very poor and struggled to make ends meet so I have no idea whether they had much to be cheerful about at Christmas.

Most of all I would love to be able to turn the clock back 2,000 years ago and hear the sounds  and see the sights  from that Bethlehem Stable the night of Jesus’ birth.

We have the accounts of the Nativity in Luke and Matthew’s Gospels and although the passages aren’t very long they have given Christian people plenty of food for thought when it comes to imagining  what it must have been like the night Christ was born.

Luke sets the scene with a noisy town of Bethlehem full of people who had travelled there to fulfill  an obligation to register for a census. Amongst  the travellers  were Joseph, a carpenter from Nazareth and his expectant wife Mary.

We can imagine the noise of the city and the anxiety of the young couple as Mary, near to giving birth, needed a safe and warm place. Luke tells us they were offered a stable and who knows what noises the resident animals made; were there really cattle and oxen lowing and sheep offering  background noise as the birth took place?

One of our 19th C carols   “O Little Town of Bethlehem” , suggests:

“ How silently, how  silently the Wondrous gift is given”  – but was it really that silent?

Even with modern analgesic, child birth is rarely silent and unless we want to sanitise the whole story and make it surreal, there must have been a lot of shouting and screaming. I’ve always hoped there was a midwife on hand on help young Mary and Joseph.

After Jesus was born there must have been sighs of relief and tears of joy.  The urgency to make sure Mary was alright. The first sounds from the infant Jesus.

Again our  19th century carol writers did want to make everything super calm and quiet.  A line from “Away in a Manger”

“ The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes”.

It’s  a good sign if a new born announces his or her arrival by opening up their lungs and telling the world they are alive and well. I can’t imagine Jesus lay there with no mighty sounds of life cursing through his tiny body.

Then the hustle and bustle of the first visitors.

The Shepherds running down from the hillside, at the orders of an Angel insistent that they visit a child born  in The City of David, who is Christ The Lord.

Oh, if only we could have a recording of the then appearing “ multitude of the heavenly host”  who praised God on the hillside saying “ Glory to God in highest and peace to his people on earth” . ( Luke Chapter 2 v 14)

Handel did his best to convey this spectacular moment in his Oratorio Messiah but really what did it sound like? We can scare imagine.

When the shepherds found the baby in the manger, imagine their excitement and wonder. Did they make too much noise and disturb the infant? We assume they told Mary and Joseph about the angel’s message;  Luke tells us the word got out and “ all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them”’

How good it would be to have a recording of the shepherds telling their friends about all they had seen and heard.

How good it would be to hear Mary and Joseph talking in the following days about their experience of Jesus’ birth, the coming of the Magi, the Wise men from the East, the anxious flight into Egypt as recorded by Matthews gospel.

Plenty of plays have been written imaging the scenes over the centuries, not least the Medieval mystery which annually brought the sights and sounds of Christmas directly into people’s lives. Our modern day children’s  nativity plays do just that as well with plenty of noises on and off stage as children in an innocent  and charming way present the story.

But how can each of us tonight be touched again by this simple yet profound story of a baby born amidst all mess and noise of humanity? What sounds can we long to hear this Christmas Eve as re-imagine the time when heaven touched earth and God came to dwell with us in time and space?

Verses from another carol written in the USA in 1849 came to mind:   “ It came upon a midnight clear”

Yet with the woes of sin and strife

The world has suffered long;

Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

We can’t turn the clock back and hear the sounds from the first Christmas however good our imaginations are.   But what we can do is make sure that the sounds we make this Christmas are ones which would blend in with the songs of the angels who I believe still long to make the music of heaven known to us.

In our modern age of instant recordings on iphones and other hi tec gadgets there is the potential to make recordings of the sounds not just of Christmas Day but of every  day life across then earth’

This Christmas  in our troubled world we would hear a complex mixture of the sounds of compassion, pleasure and love  alongside the cries of people in pain, distress and anxiety. We might hear words of excitement from children across the world  who have plenty and hope for more and those who have nothing and can barely exist day by day. We would hear the partying of families who have worked hard all year and deserve to have a celebration with all the trimmings and families in war torn areas frightened to even go out to let alone celebrate anything. We would hear the sound of gun shots in countries where there is war and the sound of carols being sung by people in churches and even outdoors where the sun is shining by those who live in places of peace and prosperity. We would hear people telling each other how much they are loved  and the silence of those whose only reality is a deep loneliness inside.

We would hear the sound of threatening floods and the calm weather of countries as yet untouched by global warming.

We would indeed hear the sounds of a world of contrasting fortunes. But what else may we hear with our ears focused on the music of the Christmas story?

Can we hear the song of the angels, the tender love of Mary and Joseph, the adoration of the shepherds?  Can we hear sounds from the manger of a baby in whose tiny form God came to dwell and live amongst us.

Whenever angels appear on the scene of gospel stories they invariably bring a message of peace, do not be afraid. So often when Jesus appeared to his friends after he had risen from the dead his first words were “ Peace be with you; do not fear”.

This Christmas night my prayer is that each of you  may have a transforming  sense of God’s love and peace in your hearts, as if angels were saying to you  right now  “Peace  be with you, do not be afraid”.  My prayer is that the peace of the Christ child is a reality which dwells with you richly day by day, night by night.

May prayer too is that each of us as we are gifted and called, may be channels  and instruments of  God’s love to those desperately seeking peace and hope in their lives. That we may bring the sounds of compassion and kindness to those we know who need to the soothing sound of God’s love and peace in the places where they are hurting most.

And  imagine… ….if our conversations  this Christmas were recorded for all time… would we be proud of what our descendants heard us say to one another  and to the world this Christmas 2012.

”Walk softly as you go through Christmas: that each step you take may bring you nearer to the manger bed.

Talk  quietly as you speak of Christmas: that you shall not drown out the song of the angels.

Knell reverently as you pause for Christmas: that you may feel again the spirit of the Nativity rekindled in your soul.

Rise eagerly, after you have trod the Christmas  path,  that you may serve more fully the one whose birth we hail.

Amen”

December 24, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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