Happy Christmas. What a year this has been. This time last year we were still wearing masks, socially distancing and many self-isolating. Now, we are together again. But not all of us, as war, disaster and travel complications continue to separate some from their loved ones. And we remember especially those separated by the war in Ukraine, and all refugees separated from their families and friends, all of whom will be worrying about those left behind in situations of fear. We pray for all who cannot see or hold those they love this Christmas.
I have to ask, did everyone get the gift they asked for? Did anyone receive something they could never have imagined – in a good way? Did anyone get socks? Gifts are so difficult, aren’t they. I must admit it is one of my special pleasures of Christmas to try to work out what gift to give each of my family. But trying to find that special gift, that one which doesn’t just last until the last mince pie of Christmas Day, that is so hard to find. There can be just a little tinge of disappointment by the end of the day. It can feel so unsatisfactory. Something not quite fulfilling. Something is missing, amongst the torn wrapping paper and piled up presents. Something overlooked.
And so we turn to our readings. There is no sense of anti-climax in Isaiah. Something has happened. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light! Something has completely changed the way they look at the world. They have been given something that transforms how they feel, how they live. “For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken”. Their lives have been changed. Because of the gift of a Saviour: “a child has been born for us, a son has been given to us”. A small baby has made them see things differently, feel things differently! Well, as any parent knows, the birth of a baby does completely change your life – things are never the same again!
And today we have the gift. Jesus. A baby born in the little town of Bethlehem, who changed things so much that we are still celebrating him today. That birth – which in Luke happens quietly in one sentence: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” – is why we are here today, celebrating. Why? What happened?
And so I prepared a present to us, a box of sweets and a card which reads – to everyone, with love. To everyone. With love. This is the difference the gift of the birth of Jesus makes to us and to the world. Jesus came for all – this is why shepherds and wise men are the ones summoned to his cradle. They represent everyone: the poor, those who live outside the boundaries society puts up around itself: shepherds lived outside on the hills, separate from the towns and villages, marginalised, overlooked. The wise men came from far away, beyond the boundaries of canton and country. Jesus was the gift for all people, whoever and wherever they were. A gift that gave, not just a living baby, but the gift of God, of God’s love in action. A gift of hope in a time of darkness. This baby showed that God loved us so much that he came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all. The gift by which God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. Jesus’ birth is the gift that brings God close to us, that enables us to see God, to renew our relationship with God and to see God’s love in action: through Jesus we can see that God knows what it is like to be human.
Tears and smiles like us he knew. Through Jesus, God feeleth for our sadness and shareth in our gladness. Through Jesus, God is with us: Emmanuel. And this gift is the gift that goes on giving- – not like my box of sweets which will run out. The gift of God’s love in Jesus continues across the world, across centuries, reaching out deep into our lives and transforming us into the children of God: as we heard last night: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God”. And this gift transforms us, and, through us, the world: through God’s love in action in us we can change the world. The gift of Jesus showed us how we can be human, how we can live our lives in the light of the Christmas message of hope, joy, peace. The gift gives us the power to work together for peace: wholeness of self and unity between peoples. The power to reach out into the darkness and bring light to those in need – seen in the many acts of generosity to refugees this year.
These acts for others I the name of the man for others spread the gift, the light into other lives. And transforms our world, so that all of us can feel that we no longer walk in darkness, but have had the the yoke of our burden, and the bar across our shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, broken by the gift of a baby in manger. The gift that was meant for sharing, which only by sharing can it’s worth, it’s specialness be seen. A gift chosen so carefully by God, for each and every one of us to use to help transform this world so all can feel loved, whole and worthwhile.
The Reverend Jackie Sellin