Welcome to SBD for our Carols. A joy to see you here.
My name is GF. I’m the vicar of the church.
We’re going to spend a few minutes looking at those very familiar readings from Luke’s gospel.
“There were shepherds watching over their flocks by night
An angel of the LORD appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone’
Light in the darkness. That’s what Christmas is about, according to the Bible. Light breaking into darkness.
The world is a very dark place sometimes. Most of the time we don’t walk around saying ‘the world’s a dark place.’ we don’t look at it frontally all the time - we can’t. But then the next tragic event strikes - and the fact of the world’s darkness presses down on you.
When tragedies happen - we take action, we seek solutions… and that’s right. That’s many people’s job. But JRR Tolkein’s words on the lips of Gandalf ring true: “Always after a defeat and a respite the Shadow takes another shape and grows again.” The Shadow: darkness; evil “after a defeat and a respite …takes another shape and grows again”
far from being intended as a temporary seasonal escape from the darkness.
Christmas is about God’s plan to deal with the Darkness.
‘The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light!’
When most Londoners today hear these familiar readings - of the virgin birth, the child in the manger, the angels, the shepherds. they say, (you say) “Ah - lovely legend.” It’s a legend. But it’s a lovely legend because it symbolises the things we should be doing. For example it symbolises hope. We should always have hope.
But Luke, when he wrote these things was clearly not intending to give us a lovely legend filled with symbolic language. Look at how Luke starts chapter 2.. He doesn’t start his account of the birth of Jesus Christ saying “Once upon a time” nor does he say ‘a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.’ which we know is another way of saying: here is a wonderful story that is going to inspire you but of course it never really happened. No, that’s not what Luke says. Luke starts his account, “In the year that Caesar Augustus had his census of the entire Roman world, when Quirinius was governor of Syria? that’s the year when what I am telling you about happened.” At the beginning of chapter 1 - we don't have it printed, but - there, Luke tells us that he’s carefully researched what is written in this book. These are eyewitness accounts of true occurences!
Can we really know that? The gospels are the most attested documents that we have from antiquity - such are the number and prevalence of very early manuscripts that we have..
Does it really matter anyway? Why does it matter whether this is truth or myth?
Here’s why it matters. Go back again to that statement of Tolkein.
“Always after a defeat and a respite evil takes another shape and grows again.” Within the bounds of history that is absolutely true isn’t it?
All of our medical and technological advancements bring us all kinds of good things and yet… far from making us more secure we know that those very advancements actually open us up to new fears, new threats. ‘the darkness takes another shape and grows again.’
Why? Why is it like this?
It is like this, the Bible says, because the ultimate source of the darkness of this world is in here, it’s in us, it’s in our hearts. And all that progress does is it creates new shapes for the darkness and sometimes bigger shapes. It always comes back. It’s the darkness of the human heart that is the source of the whole spectrum of evil out there. From terrorist atrocities to unhappy marriages.
And now you see why Luke is insisting this isn’t just a legend?
See what do we really need? - we don’t need stories to inspire us to try a little harder. Because every time we do something about the darkness.. it just takes another shape and appears again because it’s in here. We do not need legends about the glory of God appearing.. we need the glory of God to appear - to break in from outside and intervene..
And Luke says:… It has. It did.
God himself came into the world. An utterly unique event - marked by equally unique and unusual circumstances a virgin birth, angelic messengers. He has come says Luke. It really happened. He’s come to deal with the darkness.
Well, How? How does he do it?
The answer is most surprising. God deals with the darkness by making himself poor, making himself vulnerable, by submitting himself to the darkness.
I was reading about a woman in Sussex who again this Christmas is renting out her stable as a hotel room. ‘bringing Bethlehem to Brighton' is the headline.
The stable comes complete with a straw bed for two, a resident donkey and tea making facilities.
They even have costumes if anybody wants to dress up as a shepherd or a king (which is where it starts to sound a little bit weird, i think).
Mrs Turton is the landlady she says “this is back to basics providing guests with the authentic nativity experience - bath towels and wifi available at additional cost”
Brilliant - no room at the inn is one thing but no internet access would be a proper disaster wouldn’t it?
the authentic nativity experience? Is that the nativity?
Every day at the moment we see images in our papers and on our screens of child refugees born into oppression fleeing violence, on the road, vulnerable, unwelcome. babies passed from rubber dinghies.
These very contemporary scenes are more reflective of the authentic nativity. It is not just that God when he chose to enter our world entered our humanity …and at it’s weakest point - as a newborn baby. He is also born into an oppressive regime he is born on the road as Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem to register for taxation. There is no room for him. And then, if you know how the nativity unfolds, from Bethlehem the family have to flee the country to Egypt - a long dangerous journey - away from Herod’s death squads slaughtering male infants.
God when he came… God became a child refugee.
When you think of God think of this..
He submitted himself to the darkness.
How does becoming weak, submitting to the darkness.. how does thatdeal with the darkness?
when ever people talk about suffering and evil people say - if there’s a God why doesn’t he stop it?
and if God came to earth into this darkness - why in the world didn't he come to stop it?
why did he come in weakness? why did he come human? why didn’t he come as a Divine king or general on a mighty warhorse with a sceptre and a spear to destroy all evil?
well the reason is plain, you know we’ve actually already talked about it…
if JC had have come that first Christmas to destroy all of the sources of evil
there wouldn't have been any of us left would there?
there wouldn't have been any of us left.
if you know your own heart at all you know that is not an exaggeration.
therefore.. in mercy and love
Jesus Christ came
not to be accepted but to be rejected.
not to be crowned but to be killed
he came not to bring judgement he came to bear judgement
He, our Creator, the living God, assumed our humanity at its darkest point - Jesus the refugee - and he died on a wooden cross to bear the judgement that we deserve for our self centred-ness, for our wrongdoing, for our sin - to pay for it, to remove it.
So that someday he can return - which he has promised to do - and he can end evil without ending us.
Hidden away in the news a couple of weeks ago was the extraordinary story of the five Tanzanian gold miners who were finally rescued after spending 41 days trapped in total darkness 100m underground after the collapse of part of the mine.
Weeks after the official rescue operation had been called off, surviving on cockroaches and frogs and collecting seeping water in their helmets the miners wandered desperately through the network of tunnels. Until there was a glimmer of hope atlast. "We saw a tiny crack in the rock where sun's rays shone through the darkness.”
Wonderful story for Christmas
Christmas is light breaking into the darkness.
That our Creator God was pleased to dive down into our humanity, to take hold of us in our weakness, giving his life that we might live.
He takes hold of you.. grab him back.
Find out more this Christmas.. It’s too important not to. Take a gospel to read. Discuss these things with the friends that brought you. Or come and discuss in the New year.
Light breaking in to the darkness.
After the choir sing we will sing our final carol.
At the end of the service Mulled wine and Mince pies will be served here at the front of church and at the back. Please enjoy.
If you have children in the crèche or Christmas party please collect them immediately at the end of the service and bring them in so you can have some refreshments.
There will be a retiring collection for Refugee Support network. Read about them in your service sheet. Please give generously to a worthy cause as you go.