Is it appropriate to say ‘Happy’ Christmas this year? As the Vicar of Marsden and Slaithwaite and the communities around us, I have a Christmas message I’d like to share. So once again I’ve deliberately made a fool of myself and filmed this sermon preached outside in Marsden on Christmas Eve. May we all be blessed with hope as we celebrate the birth of a squidgy, small and smelly baby: “The Word made flesh”
I’d like to say ‘Happy Christmas’, to shout it from the roof tops: Happy Christmas: unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. And yet, I’ve met many people who are not having a ‘happy’ Christmas. Today there are tears for an isolated Christmas, a lonely Christmas. There is a Christmas filled with grief too: Christmas remembering those we love but no longer see.
Is it appropriate to say ‘happy’ Christmas right now?
There is a reason Christmas is celebrated near the winter solstice (and it isn’t because Jesus was born on the 25th of December), it is because at the darkest point of the year for us, we need some hope: The short cold days. The long dark nights… In the middle of our darkness, Christians have adopted the celebration, redeemed the winter festival that had no God, and offered a fresh way of looking for hope. God comes into our darkest times and says, “Yes! Light the fire. Yes! Come and enjoy the feast”. Not only are the days getting longer and the darkest part of the year is gone, but more than that, “you need never fear the dark, ever again.” Because you are not alone in life, or in death: because God offers humanity a fresh hope through the birth of a baby.
How can there be so much hope in the birth of a baby?
The Gospel writer John wants to help but leaves many people confused: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John is trying to describe the indescribable: the terrifying God whose word initiated the Universe. “Let there be light”, and suddenly where there was nothing there is everything.
God offers us a more familiar message to understand. Something we have experienced: our own fragile, human existence. The terrifying God becomes small, squidgy, smelly – we were once all like this.
Some of us have the daunting challenge of caring for babies too: I’ve held my own child in my arms; seen the fragility of life, felt over-protective, and at the same time felt utterly clumsy. I know an amazing couple who recently had a baby. It was a home birth: the baby arrived faster than expected. Mum, hoping for the safety of a hospital delivery suite, suddenly having her baby with her young husband instead of the midwife. And Dad-to-be, with no mid-wife training, helping his wife give birth. Holding a baby in his arms.
And here is Jesus. The boy with two Dads. Joseph, husband of Mary. And God: God the Father. God puts his trust in two humans, as he entrusts his only Son, Jesus, into the world. And Mary trusts Joseph, Dad-to-be, delivering her son. The word made flesh: all creation holds its breath. The umbilical cord is cut. The baby draws its first breath and… the Universe breathes again.
The baby (God’s word) has literally been delivered… and the message begins to be heard.
Fast forward to today, and to my question, is it appropriate to say ‘happy’ Christmas at this time? If the message of Christmas is genuinely good news, lightens our life, and lifts the fears which have gripped us throughout 2020… then perhaps Isaiah was right when he said, “how beautiful are the feet of the messenger who announces peace and brings good news”.
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, your feet are beautiful: you who live and breathe peace, good news, and God’s saving grace. You stand beside Mary and Joseph, witnesses to the birth of the terrifyingly awesome and powerful God, who made himself vulnerable to humanity. You have received Christ: believed in his name and received the terrifyingly awesome power to become children of God, with the special ability to dispel the darkness.
How beautiful are the feet of the messengers who share this good news with those who are afraid.
you have not made us for darkness and death,
but for life with you for ever.
Without you we have nothing to hope for;
with you we have nothing to fear.
Speak to us now your words of eternal life.
Lift us from anxiety and guilt
to the light and peace of your presence,
and set the glory of your love before us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
I think I’ve found the answer to my question. Yes, it is appropriate to say, to sing and to shout:
May the light of Christ, rising in glory, banish all darkness from your hearts and minds: today, and always, amen