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Bonus Worship 25 December | Christmas Day

God is with us! God is with us indeed. Hallelujah!


We began this morning by lighting the candles on our advent wreath. We left the second candle unlit this year, in solidarity with the churches in Bethlehem, who have not lit many of their own Christmas lights, and as a reminder that there are many for whom the world feels very dark at the moment. Instead we placed one of our origami cranes next to the candle, as an expression of our ongoing prayers for all places and lives that know conflict and unrest, and we saw the light build around it, as a sign that the darkness will not prevail.


And then we we set to work unwrapping the Christmas story...quite literally! In a fit of enthusiasm our minister had tidied away and wrapped up our nativity scene, so bit by bit we found it and unwrapped it and put it back together, interspered with prayer and some classic carols (you'll find modern interprations of them on our Christmas Day playlist if you fancy comething a bit different).

We started by finding the houses which represented the setting for our Christmas story. Bethlehem was a fairly unassuming place, a small town in the hill country, whose name means “house of bread”. And yet it had been the birthplace of King David, and the prophet Micah declared that from this town would come another ruler who would bring peace. So Bethlehem suggests both humble origins and marvellous potential. According to Luke’s account, it was also far from home for some of the characters we are about to meet, who could find no guest room but were offered warmth and safety nonetheless. So Bethlehem also represents both dislocation and welcome.

Then we added Mary and Joseph, who arrived in Bethlehem engaged to be married and expecting a baby. We heard a few weeks ago how an angel visited Mary to tell her that she would have a child through the power of the Spirit and would name him Jesus, and how Mary said yes to being a part of God’s plan, and how she shared with her cousin profound and prophetic words about bringing down the mighty and sending the rich away empty. Joseph has been overlooked so far, but he too received a message from an angel, and he too agreed to care for this baby and stand by his mother, knowing all too well the gossip that would follow them. Mary and Joseph appear to be utterly ordinary, and yet their trust in God makes possible the absolutely extraordinary. They are everyday human miracles, and they tell us that we can be too.


Next were some angels and some shepherds. The angels appeared to the shepherds while they were watching their flocks out in the fields, declaring “good news that will cause great joy for all the people...a saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah...glory to God in the highest heaven, peace on earth and goodwill to all”. Of course they could not resist that invitation, and so they raced to find the baby, then went out into the streets praising God and telling everyone what they had seen. It is no coincidence that the first to visit the baby were those who were on the fringes of society, kept outside of town by the demands of their work. Their presence tells us that the edges are being drawn to the centre.


And then it was the turn of the magi. These visitors from the east are often known as wise men or kings, but they were likely priests or astrologers. Matthew tells us that they saw a star and believed it to herald the birth of a king, so they travelled to Jerusalem to find him, and were redirected to Bethlehem by King Herod’s advisers who remembered the old prophecy. When they found Jesus, they worshipped him and offered gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh, gifts which proclaim Jesus as king and God and sacrifice. And then they travelled home without returning to Herod, having been warned in a dream to take a different route. Again, it is no coincidence that among the first to be drawn to Jesus were those from another land and another religion. Their worship tells us that God is reaching out to the whole world.


Finally we added a manger, because the scene doesn’t really make sense without Jesus, does it? One of the children at Messy Church asked why there was no baby in the manger, and the answer was that the lights represent Jesus, because we often talk about him as the light of the world. Just like the candles we lit at the start of the service, he brings brightness and warmth into the world, but unlike those candles, he won’t ever burn out. In Christ we see God made flesh, revealing the height and depth and breadth of God’s love for us, and showing us all we can be as we are filled with that love, and that is the glorious light we live by. 


The gospel of John introduces Jesus in this way: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.


And so our nativity scene was finally complete, but it isn’t the whole story. What about the family that took Mary and Joseph in? And all those people that the shepherds told about the baby? And Herod and his advisers waiting for the magi to return? What did they make of it all? We’ll find some of the answers in the new year, but for most of them we will have to use our prophetic imagination. Perhaps that might make some interesting conversation over your Christmas dinner.


It’s not the end of the story either. There’s life and death and resurrection to come for Jesus. And there’s a decision to make for us. Not just whether or not we believe any of this, but whether or not we will be changed by any of this. I said on the first Sunday of Advent that we waited not just for the birth of a child, but for the birth of a new world, one in which the good news of God is made manifest as the humble are lifted up and the hungry are filled with good things. That new world is being birthed, and we can be midwives to it. And so we ended with a poem called The Work Of Christmas by Howard Thurman.


May the joy of the shepherds, the hope of the wise men, the love of Joseph and Mary, and the peace of Christ be yours, as you celebrate this day, and as you go out to do the work of Christmas in the days to come. Amen.


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