Sunday Sermon 20 December- Christmas and New Truths
The chosen hymns for this week, O Little Town of Bethlehem and The First Noel can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Christmas and New Truths
Luke 1: 46-56
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 20th December and the fourth week of Advent.
Christmas day is nearly upon us. Everyone under a certain age will be getting excited.
Others will be pulling their hair out trying to work out who they are allowed to see and when they are allowed to see them.
And at the same time as we are struggling, we are watching all those Christmas films, where everything seems as if it is going to be a disaster, but somehow on Christmas Eve it all comes right and everyone lives happily ever after...only it’s a lie.
We know for a fact that it doesn’t always work like that.
And if it doesn’t always look like that, then maybe the perfect Christmas won’t be ours.
So where does that leave us?
That’s something we will look at after Gil leads us in the readings and prayers for this week.
Gil: Reading Luke 1: 46-56
I invite all of you, no matter where you are, to join with us and to come before God in prayer. So let us all pray:
God of all creation, your wisdom, your power, your capabilities, and your love are beyond our human understanding, and we too easily forget, that for you, nothing is too difficult nor impossible. You are loving and generous; you have given us everything.
This year has been full of hardship and sadness for many people, and we confess that we have sometimes forgotten that you are always present with us, and that you still love and care for us. The difficulties of day-to-day living, and the problems caused by the pandemic, have absorbed our attention, and we have not always thanked you for all that you have done.
You know all our weaknesses, and you know that we are frequently afraid of what the future may bring Merciful God, forgive us for all our failings and shortcomings, and help us to remember that you are always present, and that you are always willing to help us. Lord, we pray that you will give us the courage to set aside our fears, to put our trust in you, and to accept your will for us.
In normal times we would be anticipating the traditional Christmas festivities, but 2020 has not been a normal year. This year there will be restrictions on the number of people who can gather together, and even the church services at Christmas will have strict limits on the number of people who can attend. God of Compassion, we remember before you all those who will find it difficult, or impossible, to enjoy any of the limited celebrations; those who have lost loved ones, those who are lonely, those who are struggling with physical or mental illness, and those who have problems with relationships, finance, housing or employment. You know who these people are, and we pray that your Spirit will be with them, to bring them comfort and peace. Lord, may we be willing to be your hands to reach out to others. We ask for strength for the task, and the wisdom to care for, and to be sensitive to those who need our help.
Caring God, in theses uncertain times we pray that you will guide, strengthen and support all who are working to combat the effects of the current pandemic. In particular we think of the medical staff, and the many thousands of personnel who provide the vital, and often unnoticed, support services which keep our hospitals and other services running. We thank you that their dedication, and shear hard work, has helped, and is still helping, so many people.
We remember the many research teams who are working to develop vaccines, and we thank you that their skill and determination have given us hope that we may soon be able to be protected against Covid-19. We pray that you will continue to guide and support them in their valuable work, and may they feel your love.
We are approaching the time of year when we celebrate your greatest gift; the gift of your son Jesus. Lord, in spite of all life’s problems, and the difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, help us to focus on the real meaning of Christmas, and may it be a time of peace and hope.
Now I invite you to join in the prayer that Jesus gave us.
Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation.
But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.
Our reading is from Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 1, and verses 46 to 56.
After Mary had been told by the angel that she would have a son, she went to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth was to become the mother of John the Baptist. When Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s house, Elizabeth called out that Mary and her child were blessed. This reading is Mary’s reply to Elizabeth.
So let us read Luke, Chapter 1 and verses 46 to 56.
46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful
55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”
56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.
Amen, and may God help us to a better understanding of His Word.
My home church was Hillington Park in Glasgow.
They scarred my spirituality badly.
How did they do that?
Well for years on end I was typecast as the innkeeper.
I was that guy who turned away pregnant Mary tired Joseph and the unborn Jesus.
Every year it was the same, there was a knock on my door and I would arrive at the door, it was late, it was dark, and this poor couple with their donkey faced me with their sob story, ‘Is there any room in this inn, we have travelled far and my wife is heavily pregnant. I think she’s going have her baby tonight. We have gone to many inns and they are all full. Surely you have some small place we can stay in.’
And with all the tenderness and consideration of Genghis Khan I would say, ‘Sorry. No room here.’ And shut the door.
I was that heartless person.
Decades later I found out that the innkeeper never existed.
The whole thing was wrong.
There was no innkeeper because Bethlehem at that time had no inns.
Joseph was returning to his ‘own town’ he was a ‘descendant of David’.
We know that the common arrangement at that time was that bonds were made between families and those bonds would be kept for generations.
So Joseph’s grandfather once said to his friend that if any time his family were in the area to pop in and they would be looked after.
Two generations later and Joseph goes to the grandson of his grandfather’s friend and asks for a place to stay.
It would be the first house he went to.
And that person would respect the pact of his grandfather because honouring hospitality was a great cultural imperative in those times.
But unfortunately there was no room in the sleeping part of the house, only in the lower part of the house where the animals stayed the night.
But there was no English word for that kind of arrangement.
In the same way that allegedly the first translation of the Bible into the Inuit had Jesus being the seal pup of God because there was no word for lamb in their language.
So they gave an equivalent in English, well if a manger was there then it must have been a stable and the only places, in medieval England when the first English translations were made, that had stables that people could go to was inns.
If it wasn’t for mistranslations then my lines would have been completely different.
Along would have come Mary and Joseph, they would knock on the door and I would open it up.
They would say, ‘My grandfather Elisha was a friend of your grandfather Eli. May we have a place to stay?’
And I would say, ‘Of course. Unfortunately my three brothers and their families have also come for the census. If you wait a while I will clean the animal room, you can stay in there. I’ll put fresh hay on the floor, you will be fine.’
Our view of what happened that night changes with what is actually happening.
Instead of Mary and Joseph having to face troubles alone, we have Mary and Joseph being supported by extended family.
That same change of meaning can happen with Mary’s hymn of praise.
Last week we looked at Mary being real.
And we saw how terrified and scared she was by looking at the passages round this song of praise.
But this week we look at that song itself.
At first glance it looks like fake News. It is a happy ever after passage.
God is wonderful and everything will be fine.
And the truth is that that isn’t the way that people experience life.
Even in the Bible it isn’t the way people experience life.
There is the potential of Mary being stoned to death for being pregnant out of wedlock.
We have the potential of miscarriage as she travels to Bethlehem when she is heavily pregnant.
There is Herod trying to kill every child under 2 years old in Bethlehem.
There is having to escape to Egypt and being refugees there for many years, and we know how tough it is for refugees.
So why is this passage here?
Because if we are to have any hope at all, then we need to see a new reality.
It is easy to look at the world and give up.
This week in the news there was talk of a famous high street group going into administration. Thousands of jobs lost; thousands of families struggling. And the owner of that firm sits pretty because years ago he gave his family billions from the finances of the firm as dividends while the pension fund for the ordinary people was greatly underfunded by about £300 million.
Last week I was listening to the football on Radio Clyde, and they were advertising their Cash for Kids charity, and they mentioned that in the Greater Glasgow area alone they had already got requests for over £300,000. Over £300,000 of need.
We see the wealthy evade justice because they can afford the best lawyers.
We see the poorest denied justice because there is no one to defend them.
Power is in the hands of the strong, not the meek not the humble.
I was talking to an engineer.
He had come to do maintenance on my central heating.
His firm have decided that because of COVID 19 they were rearranging the firm, and everyone had to reapply for their job and each contract had tougher working conditions.
But what could he do?
I got a letter from my bank telling me that they had unilaterally decided to cut my interest rates in my bank accounts.
But what could I do?
I would love if that power worked both ways.
I would love it if I could just write a letter to my bank and say, ‘I have decided that for every pound in the bank that I have lent you I will be charging 16% interest which will be starting immediately.’
But it doesn’t work that way.
And it is easy to look at that reality and surrender to it.
To say there is no point in trying.
To say that good news is fake news.
And if we believe that reality then maybe the best thing we can do is just give up.
And then we hear Mary’s song.
God made a promise.
He will not abandon his people.
He will not give up on us.
He will give us the strength to carry on.
He will give us the will to be open to others.
In the darkest night he will be the brightest light.
This is a different truth.
And Mary sees this in the upcoming birth of her child.
She should be stoned to death...but she won’t be.
Joseph should divorce her, but in the end he will marry her.
Herod and his army could try and kill the child, but he won’t succeed.
The world can change.
And the life of Christ is a life of showing that.
The blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear.
And that song of hope still carries on today.
There is a hospice not too far away from here that basically survives on charity.
It should be a depressing place; it should be a place where all there is there is mourning.
Instead each day there is a day where life is celebrated.
All around the world there are people striving to create pockets of peace where you would have though the only motivation for people would be survival of the fittest and everyone for themselves.
In a time of the greatest uncertainty in this country in a long time, a time of possibly the greatest depression and highest unemployment, where no one is sure of their future, there are enough people generously giving to food banks so that there is hope that everyone can get enough to survive.
All reflected in Mary’s song, and the truth behind it; God has seen the world, and God wants it to change.
Mary in her song is declaring that the world can change with God’s strength, and small, insignificant, weak as she is, she will be an agent of change, doing her bit, walking the path God sets for her, so that the world has a chance to change.
And now we have the same choice.
Will we be agents of God, agents of change, doing what small things we can to bring hope, and love and compassion and joy into the lives of those around us?
We are lowly servants, but God is on our side.
We can see in Christ that God has kept his promise to help us.
No matter what the world flings at us, we can have hope.
No matter what the world throws at others, we can offer them hope.
Let us pray
May our hearts rejoice in the Lord, may our souls be glad.
For Christ is our Saviour, and no matter how small we feel, we are never so small that Christ cannot see us and reach out to us in love.
In our times of uncertainty he has been our rock.
In our times of fear he has been our hope.
In our times of weakness he has been our strength and our forgiveness.
He has helped us see that those possessions we thought made us rich eventually turn to ash.
He has reminded us that the fellowships that we make are eternal and give everlasting joy.
May we freely accept the path that he has laid in front of us.
Treating all with dignity and respect.
Seeking the wellbeing of those he puts in our heart.
This we ask in Jesus name.
Reminder of Carols and Readings services 2pm 21st and 22nd, 7.30pm 23rd.
Christmas Eve service at 11.30pm and Christmas day service at 10am.
Online services Christmas Eve from 6pm Christmas day from 10am
May God turn to you in love.
May God turn to you in hope.
May God turn to you in joy.
This day and forever more. Amen