24th December 2016
with ..........Rev Canon Cheryl Collins
How are we going to get to Bethlehem this year?
And how on earth are we going to sing ‘Hallelujah’?
Everywhere I turn there are pundits telling us, in case we hadn’t noticed, that 2016 has not been a good year, and we’ll all be delighted to see the back of it.
I could hear a siren going as I wrote this, as something-police, fire, ambulance, was rushing down Gainsborough Street.
And when we look at the world today it seems like only emergency services can save it, and that going to Bethlehem, through song, through story, through gathering together on a night like this, can be nothing more than a pleasant distraction as we trudge our weary way.
But the Christmas story is not just a pretty scene on a Christmas card
The world Jesus was born into was very similar to ours
• Who has the power and how are they using it?
• Occupying power practicing peace through repression
• Ever growing gap between rich and poor
• Corrupt rulers and client states
• Murder of innocents
• Magicians, not Kings
Good, because a Christmas card will not save us- like expecting a Mills & Boon novel to solve our relationship problems or 43 viewings of Die Hard to be a help when confronted by actual terrorists.
God enters our world as it actually exists, not as we might like it to be
It’s a world as polarized as ours when 52% of the population think that leaving the EU will be the best thing we’ve ever done and the other 48% think it will be the biggest disaster. When the popular vote in the U.S gave the 2.8 more votes to Hilary Clinton while the Electoral College voted Donald Trump in as their next President and we’re not sure if that means welcome to the world’s biggest nightmare or not.
In fact, the very story of Jesus challenges the existing world order, and asks us to look at the world from a very different point of view- God’s.
Luke’s story begins with civil power- there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus…and everyone jumped to do his bidding. It includes the religious establishment where there was no greater claim than to be born of David’s line. But God isn’t in the palace with Herod or Caesar, he’s not even centre stage but squashed into a corner, round the back, God is on the margins with the broken.
The peace that the angels proclaim isn’t peace through repression it’s a plan for the world where all are fed, all are treated fairly, where the earth itself is treasured and cared for and where we all learn to live together in Shalom- that Biblical peace that means wholeness, completeness, life in all its fullness.
And it begins with a baby on the margins with the broken.
So if you’re feeling just a little bit broken this year…
Maybe you’re feeling like Mary and Joseph. Both devout and obedient to God. Both doing their best with what has been given them. Both discovering that saying ‘Yes’ to God can mean a whole world of unexpected trouble.
Mary and Joseph had not just the exhaustion of all new parents to carry, but unanswered questions, unnamed fears to carry too.
Yes, maybe you’re feeling like you’re doing your best for God, trying to be a good Christian, but you’re still struggling and wondering and trying to work out how God is calling you and maybe the hope you had when you first believed isn’t quite so shiny and new now?
Or maybe you’re feeling like the shepherds. Despite King David starting out as a shepherd, by the time Jesus was born shepherds were despised. Seen as shiftless, dishonest people who grazed their flocks on other people’s land, taking what didn’t belong to them, like Travellers or gyppos or pikeys.
So maybe you’re feeling just a little bit grubby and used up. Maybe you can’t even remember the last time other people looked at you with respect or even the last time you looked in the mirror and felt that. Maybe you’re sitting in the middle of the mess of your life and wondering what went wrong.
You imagine that if God’s messengers appeared to you, all they would have are scathing words of condemnation. You’re not even sure what you’re doing here, except a little tradition seemed like a good idea after a few pints.
Or maybe you’re feeling like the wise men- the kind of people who are used to power, who are used to influence, who know the people you need to know, know the levers you need to pull. But just at the moment you can’t help feeling helpless, and that’s something you’re not used to feeling at all. It makes you uneasy, it makes you feel just a tiny little bit broken.
And what does God send us, fearful and broken as we are- God sends us a baby.
A small child, absolutely dependent upon others, as we, broken as we are, having run out of ideas as we have, can be absolutely dependent upon God.
For Luke tells us that the baby is a sign- a sign of where God belongs, down here in the muck with us, a sign that God is not afraid to dirty God’s glory so that our dirt can be blessed. A sign that God keeps his promises.
It turns out that sometimes we are most ready to meet God when we admit just how not ready we are.
Christmas is a ‘come are you are’ celebration.
It is always God who comes to us first, right where we are.
Just as we are, God makes us a promise- Here I am, Emmanuel, God with us.
God knows exactly who we are- our doubts and our beliefs, our failures and our triumphs, our weaknesses and our strengths, and despite knowing the worst about us as well as the best God chooses us. God has not forgotten us or abandoned us to the brokenness we have created.
God chooses the broken, the least, the empty, the small town a long way from the centres of power, somewhere very like Sudbury.
God chooses us.
God gives us the gift of his presence, God is here.
There is no need to produce, or perform or be perfect- God is here, yearning to fill us with his love.
Yearning for us to open up that empty space that the chocolate, or the booze, or the non-stop entertainment could never quite fill and let God in.
Simply become a space for God, just as you are, that is all.
When we become a space for God we let God shine in us, let God’s glory shine in our dirt.
When the angels appeared to the shepherds the darkness was pierced with brilliance as the people who wait in darkness see a great light.
God’s messengers appear and light up the sky with brilliance and lift the heart with Hallelujah.
There’s a blaze of light in every word, it doesn’t matter what you’ve heard, the holy or the broken Hallelujah.
The darkness in our world cannot even understand the light of love. One day that baby will walk to the cross and the sky darkens and evil imagines it has won. But on the third day the Sun of righteousness will arise and we will know that love is stronger than death, that nothing can put out the light of the dayspring from on high.
The light shines in the darkness, and all around our little lights, the small things we can do where we are, show an affirming flame.
God is here, hope is still alive, and together we can raise our voices and sing…
Even though we all went wrong, we can stand before the Lord of Song, with nothing on our tongues but Hallelujah!
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah!