What if? A sermon for a carol service.

St Andrew’s does not do nativity plays
St Andrew’s does amazing and creative Mike Gibson full scale nativity productions
And last week was no exception.

(click the arrow below for audio)

The toys in a toy shop are told that there will be no nativity play – and so they put one on themselves. Woody was the director and a Tyrannosaurus Rex was his co-producer. Barbie – predictably – was Mary, although she was not impressed when she found out that her husband, Joseph, was to be played by Mr Potato Head. The angel Gabriel was Buzz lightyear, the inn keeper was a penguin, the sheep were played by the three pigs, and the wise men were three aliens. Oh, and the baby Jesus was made from Lego.

Toys allow us to imagine another world

With toys the impossible can happen: they can travel through space, they can speak, they can even put on nativity plays!

With toys there are almost no boundaries: you can do with them what you want. Pigs can be sheep (very C21st), and you can make a baby out of Lego.

The only limit to what toys can be or do is the limit of our imagination.

But as we grow older the worlds that we imagine collide with what others tell us is the real world, and the big kids tell the smaller kids not to be so stupid.

And so toys – and those other worlds - that we once cherished, are discarded. They are left lying at the bottom of the wardrobe and they are forgotten.

And our imagination shrinks

The nativity story points us to another world

It is a story about the birth of a baby - and like most births it is about new life, hope and a future.
But it is more than that.

This is a story in which boundaries are broken and the impossible happens:

A virgin gives birth (even if in the world of obstetrics and gynaecology today, that is a bit passé), people are led by ancient prophecies and dreams, an angelic choir appears to shepherds and a diplomatic envoy is guided by a star.

Of course, the nativity – like a toy - is for children.

‘Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus lays down his sweet head,
The stars in the bright sky, look down where he lay
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay’

It is just play – imagination. And of course, the big kids tell the smaller kids not to be so stupid and to grow up.

But just for a few minutes I invite us to become little kids again; I invite us to imagine - what if.

What if the story is true?

What if there is a God?

What if 2000 years ago the God of the universe, beyond space and time, was born in space and time as a human baby.

What if, in his love for us, God chose to communicate with us, to meet with us, by becoming one of us.

What if this God wants to make us know that it is not just the rich and beautiful and famous and powerful and brilliant who matter to him; but also the people at the bottom: the helpless baby, the refugee, the social outcast, the victim of political tyranny, the night shift worker? This is the cast who make up the heroes of the first nativity.

What if there is another world that is bigger and beyond the world of things that we can see, feel, hear, touch or smell? What if there is a world beyond matter? And what if that world occasionally does break into this world – when the unexplainable and unpredictable and unrepeatable happens – and the eternal kisses the temporal?

What if it is possible to know God? To know God as a loving heavenly Father (and for those who are concerned about these things, Father can be bigger than gender). Not to understand God, but to begin to know God – to glimpse what he delights in: love, truth, mercy, humility, justice and rightness - and what if he can come and live in us so that we begin to share in that delight?

What if death is not the end?

And what if there is a judgement? Not based on how good or bad we were, or on how religious or non-religious we were, but based on how radically honest we have been prepared to be about our human mortality and failings, and on whether we have been prepared to humble ourselves to receive divine mercy, forgiveness and life.

I know that the older kids among us will tell the younger kids not to be so stupid.

There are very few committed atheists (it is hard to commit yourself to a negative), but there are many people (probably many people, if I am being honest, who regularly come to church) who just don’t know.

So for all of us Christmas, the nativity story, gives us the opportunity to stop and think - to imagine a world without God and to imagine a world with God.

In the Silver Chair, the sixth in the Chronicle of Narnia series, written by CS Lewis, Prince Rilian, Eustace, Pole and Puddleglum – a Marshwiggle, who is your ultimate pessimist - have been trapped in the evil witch’s underground enchanted caves. It is dark and gloomy; there is no singing and laughter. And they’re forgetting that there is such a thing as the world that is above, that there are such things as the sun or stars or ocean or rivers or grass - they have a vague memory of them, but it is fading fast. And then suddenly Puddleglum, who realises he has been enchanted, chooses to put his foot in the fire and burn it, in order to bring himself back to his senses. And he speaks up.
“One word, Ma'am," he said [to the witch], .. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan [the great Lion, the ruler of Narnia] himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. If you’re right, we're just babies making up a game. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia.
So I would ask you not to so easily discard the nativity story, and for this Christmas, I invite you to become like children: to scrabble at the bottom of the wardrobe and to get out the old discarded toys and to play, to imagine and to think ‘What if - this story is real’.

What if God loved us enough to come as one of us, to be born as a baby? What if all this talk of the kingdom and rule of God, of the forgiveness of sin, of a purpose and destiny in life, of the Holy Spirit to live in us and change us, of the possibility of friendship with Jesus, and of the hope of heaven – what if it is true?


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