Saturday, 21 December 2013

A Christ-mess: a talk for a carol service.

Christmas is about tradition. It is predictable and safe.

There is all the stuff: Christmas trees, decorations, school nativity plays and carol services – concerts – celebrations (I get quite confused these days when welcoming people, so I say ‘welcome to the school Christmas celebration concert service’), Christmas cards: yes, with the newsletters! You read about their children: big Jimmy has become an international Rugby player; little Jemima has got into Oxford (at the age of 13). And then you look at your own children … and love them. It is about wrapping paper and presents, Downton Abbey and Dr Who, Father Christmas and Christmas stockings, John Lewis adverts (‘if I see it again I will go on a bear hunt’). And it is about traditional food: turkey, mince pies and sprouts!!

Woe betides anybody who suggests that anything should change.

My sister in law has proposed that we don't have turkey on Christmas Day. By the response she has got anybody would think that she had suggested that we dance naked round Stonehenge on the winter solstice.  

But may I suggest that if you wish to have a predictable and safe Christmas then you are probably in the wrong place! 

God is in the business of creating chaos at Christmas

He did it the first Christmas

There was poor Joseph.
His life plan was blown out of the water.
He dreamt of marrying his nice uncomplicated devout Jewish girl; they would settle down, build a home together, have children, be respected.
Instead the Word of God came to him in a dream. It shook him to his very core. God told him to still marry Mary even though she was pregnant. If he said ‘Yes’, then his reputation was in pieces. If he said ‘Yes’, he would become a joke.

And then there were the shepherds.
They were having a quiet evening minding their own business, when they experience something which would blow anybody’s mind.
I love the cartoon which shows them waving their fists at the angels saying, ‘Shove off; you are frightening the sheep’.
But those angels tell them that that there is something more important than business. They show them that there is something that is bigger than what we can see or feel or touch or smell or taste: that there is another dimension to this world. And they declare that the key to this other world is lying in a drinking trough in a cow shed in Bethlehem.

And then there were the wise men.
They had their heads in the cloud, quite literally. They were the academics of the time, studying the books and the stars.
But when they realized that the king they were waiting for had been born, they knew they had to do something. ‘Let’s go and see him’, they said, ‘Let’s take him gifts and pledge our obedience. If this child is THE king, then we want him to know that we are on his side’.
It cost them a lot. It cost them their time (it was a long journey); it cost them their money (those gifts were expensive); it cost them their dignity (kneeling before a very ordinary baby) – and (if, as I suspect, camel riding has not changed in 2000 years) it also cost them their backsides!

And if we are prepared to hear the call of God that there is a world that is bigger than what we see, hear or feel, and that this baby is the key to that world, then we will have a disruptive Christmas.
If it is true that the baby born 2000 years ago is the eternal son of God who came to live among us and die for us – then:

It turns our motives on their head.
In the last couple of weeks I met two men who have recently become dads. Both of them said that their child has changed their lives, and has turned their world upside down. They both said that they have someone to live for.

It is a big step to remove yourself from being the focus of your thinking – and often the birth of our own child can help us to do that.

But I think there is a further step we need to take. If this child born 2000 years ago was the son of God, if this child was actually the One who gave us our children, then even before we live for our own children, we need to learn to live for him.

It turns all our values on their head. 
It means that it is not about powerful people in powerful places. He wasn't born as a prince in a palace but as a pauper in a pigsty. It is instead about identifying ourselves with the most broken and vulnerable.

It means it is not about our reputation, asserting our rights, living a comfortable life surrounded by nice things. It is about service and self-sacrifice.

It means it is not about getting, but giving

It turns our lives on their heads  
It means that God exists, not up there distant, aloof, uncaring and unconcerned. He has come to live among us. We can’t ignore him. Jesus is God’s calling card. If God is God then we need to treat him as God. He does not exist for us; we exist for Him. He does not fit in with our schedule; we fit into his. And it is not about putting ourselves in the centre, but putting God in the centre. 

It means it is not about trying to prove ourselves; it is not about trying to show to ourselves or to others that we are acceptable or lovable or deserving of forgiveness. It is instead about being open, and ready to kneel down before God, coming with nothing to offer, and simply receiving his love, his mercy, his forgiveness, his power for living and his destiny for our lives.

If we are prepared to put our trust in God, then we will realize that Christmas is not just about the trees, the presents or even the sprouts - but it is about people who were enemies of God becoming people who are friends of God, knowing him in a way that is more real than the way that we know those who are closest to us.

And so Christmas is not just about tradition, predictability and safety.
It is about God coming to earth in order to shake our lives to the very core.

Think of that young woman, probably about 14 years old, brought up in a respectable God-fearing home. She was a good girl. Her whole identity was probably built around being a good girl. And now, even though she would remain a good girl, if she said ‘Yes’ to God she risked losing everything: the man she loved, her family, her future. She risked becoming a social outcast; no: more than a social outcast. When she started talking about the angel, you know what they would say: ‘It’s that mad slut Mary’.

But Mary heard the call of God and put her trust God. She said ‘Yes’ to God; and as a result God came quite literally into the centre of her life.

I think of people in our town who have heard the soul-shaking life-changing call of God. As a result they have set up town pastors, a debt counseling service, a food bank long before food banks became the social thing to do, a programme to support those with special needs and those who care for them, a work with the homeless, youth clubs, football clubs, and support for the elderly and shut in.

And if we hear the soul-shaking life-changing call of God and say ‘yes’ – whatever it costs – then the God-seed will be planted inside us (not, thankfully, quite in the same way that it was planted inside Mary) and it will begin to grow in us, and transform us and make us not into good people, but into God people. People who know the presence and the peace and the power and the purpose of God.

So of course you can have a safe and predictable Christmas, but to do so you need to shut God out – and get away from here as quickly as possible! And would you forgive me if I do not wish you a safe and predictable Christmas? I don’t think I would wish that on anybody! Instead I would love you to hear the call of God and have a disruptive Christmas!! Because it is only when we allow God to shake us up, that we will really discover who we truly are, what our destiny is, and find ultimate peace, fulfillment, hope and joy.

So I wish you, and apologies in advance for this dreadful pun, not happy Christ-mas, but a truly glorious disruptive Christ-mess.

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