The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r005b.htm
s005g02 Lockleys Christmass 25/12/02
"Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours" Luke 2.14
The words of my text are the words of the song sang by the angels after they announced to the shepherds the birth of the long awaited Messiah. They have echoed down the centuries as the liturgy of the church has included these words in the "Gloria in Excelsis", sung in the modern services at the beginning, and in the traditional service, just after receiving the Holy Communion.
It is interesting that there are various translations of the first part.
The Book of Common Prayer (of 1662) has the words: "Glory be to God on high, and in earth peace, good will towards men." The APBA (1996) in its preface states that: "Since 1977, the use of male pronouns as generic terms has become unacceptable" which is very important and a precept to which I try to adhere. However this has the unfortunate consequence that the opening line of the Gloria becomes in the A Prayer Book for Australia: ""Glory to God in the highest and peace to God's people on earth". My perverse mind questions just who are God's people and who are not. The division is not between male and female anymore, but there still appears to be a division. Indeed even in the translation we read from today, it seems that there are some who God favours, and by implication some who God doesn't favour.
The Greek is Doxa en uyistois qew kai epi ghs eirhnh en anqrwpois eudokias, so the "well pleased" is simply an adjective to the word for humanity. It is worth noting that the phrase begins with Doxa - Glory (to God) and ends with eudoxa Glory (of people). Indeed the glory given to God is less than the glory imparted to humanity - because the Doxa is complemented with eu towards humanity. You will know the word euthanasia means "a good death". It is clear that the act of grace in sending the incarnate Son of God was an act of grace towards all people, not just some. God sees glory in all of humanity - in you and in me and in all people.
I think that it is significant that the words of the Gloria, so frequently repeated in Church, miss out this other half of the reason for the outburst of joy. The "Gloria" is a hymn of praise to God - it seems because God sent Jesus to live as an ordinary human being. The bit that the "Gloria" misses out is that God calls humanity eudokia, worthy of glory ourselves.
As I explored further, I found that at the Baptism of Jesus and at the Transfiguration on the mountain the same word is used by God of Jesus: "eudokhsa" (Mt 3.17 // Mk 1.11 // Lk 3.22, and Matt 17.5). "This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased". God is well pleased with Jesus and God is well pleased with humanity. God loves all of humanity, just as much as God loves Jesus himself.
God glorifies all people. Jesus sat down and ate with sinners and so glorified them. Jesus accepted their contributions as he accepted the contributions of all. Jesus glorified all of humanity, including you and me, no less. So the sending of Jesus is a concrete expression and substance of that divine desire to glorify all people.
So the good news is that no one is excluded from this glory, and this is the great joy of Christmass. Everyone is included. You and me and all people. In some ways in fact I suspect God doesn't actually mind if we know the reason for the celebration or not. We give presents to children, too young to know the reason, just as we give to others.
God is happy for our joy. If it means that on one day in 365 we are not fighting and killing one another, I am sure God would be content. I am sure God would be even more content if there were peace on earth for the whole 365 days, and would say: "Would that it were Christmass all the year round!" :-)
For God did not act in Jesus to initiate just another ?inevitable? division between humanity - between Jews of the ancient dispensation and Christians of the new. Or between Christians and everyone else, or between those who come to Church and everyone else.
And nor did God act in Jesus to give a certain few within humanity, either Jews or Christians, the miserable and impossible task of getting everyone else in the universe to believe in precisely the same terms as they did, or to live identical lifestyles. This would hardly be good news to the select few, whoever they are, let alone to humanity at large. If this were really the case and we looked at this logically, God would have, by definition condemned all of humanity who existed before Jesus, and all those who have existed since but have had no opportunity to hear and accept the good news - to eternal damnation - essentially because of an accident of history and through no fault of their own. I simply wouldn't worship a "god" like this, and I wouldn't commend such a "god" to anyone else.
But of course it was precisely those who "went to Church" who killed Jesus because he associated with others who didn't. They wanted to keep all the glory to themselves. If there were anyone with whom God wasn't well pleased it surely must have been those who conspired to have Jesus killed. These were the upright people who never did anything wrong, they were in church every week they said their prayers and looked down on everyone else. They robbed other people of their glory.
For God is the God of the whole universe, not the special preserve of any one group of people. It is most certainly true that different people will worship this one God in different ways, but there is as much diversity within Anglicanism as there is among Christians and as there is between the worship of different faith traditions.
So the message of Christmass is one of glory for all of humanity, yet let us be assured that the message will still be opposed.
God glories in humanity, and perhaps this is a different message from what you've heard the Church say. For this is not a popular message, because often the Church prefers people to be afraid of God, for people who are afraid tend to be more compliant than those who aren't. Of course, it is all for the good of other people, for it is compliant people who get into heaven, isn't it? That's what you and I have been taught. Wouldn't it be a lovely Parish Council if everyone agreed with everything I said !!! :-)
Similarly the church often talks about sin, blithely overlooking the fact that Jesus rarely if ever talks about sin. If Jesus does, it is because someone else has brought up the subject beforehand. Talking about sin inculcates an atmosphere of fear, even dread. We have all been taught that it is sin that keeps us out of heaven, so the church talks about it a lot.
In the most recent edition of "Common Theology" a new Quarterly journal for Australians, (though I suppose it's really for Australian Anglicans), there are some very interesting articles. One is by the Archbishop of Canterbury elect, the Most Rev'd Rowan Williams entitled: "Chaos Dogs The End Of War". It is a fascinating treatise on how war has changed in recent years, and how we need to take notice and respond appropriately. Even if this were the only article in the magazine it would be well worth while, and worth subscribing to.
But the things that really caught my eye were two pictures and a very short article right at the back. The first picture, on the front page, was the work of that great cartoonist, Michael Leunig. On a barren hill, during a stormy night, furtive characters bring flowers to a monument on which is inscribed "To the memory of those who faced their inner demons in the great struggle for peace and freedom". The second picture, on the second page, is a picture of a Bishop, in Cope and Mitre, along with a nun with an umbrella, dedicating a new Labyrinth at the Community House of the Society of the Sacred Advent in Queensland. And I thought how often the spiritual life is pictured as one of personal struggles one really wished one could avoid or somewhat esoteric exercises which one takes on "voluntarily".
The short article which captured my attention was right at the back. It had just five paragraphs - and oddly enough, didn't even rate a mention in the "Contents". It is entitled "An Early Epiphany" by Kenneth Orr. In it he described his early life as a boy in the country where he found that neither the "earnest exposition of bible stories ... in the weekly religious period at school ... nor ... an earnestly evangelical preparation for confirmation at fourteen years provided any connection with the revelation by the gnarled gum tree" - "the light and energy, which came from the old tree, was indeed of God, showing forth (God's) splendour to me." (page 28).
The first two pictures speak to me of a faith based on what we do, but the second article speaks about God's self revelation to us and in us, sometimes when we least expect it, even when we are not looking for it.
Christmass is also about a revelation of God glorifying a world not actually looking for it. In the words of the carol, "O little town of Bethlehem", all are asleep, the gift is given silently, and it is given to human hearts, and this continues to happen to individuals.
I have no doubt whatsoever that each and every one of you have experienced something of God. It may have been in the struggles with inner demons, in the exercise of somewhat esoteric spiritual exercises, or something that you've experienced unbidden, unlooked for, perhaps even long ago. Somehow you have realised something of the glory of God in you.
The God I worship sent Jesus to glorify us as we really are - in the struggles, in the exercises, or in the unbidden flashes of inspiration that have come to us all.
For as I go back to where I started this sermon, in fact in one sense, we are, all of us "more" beloved by God than Jesus, for Jesus was sent to live, to die and to rise again to show us precisely how much we, each and every person, are beloved by God. We should never let anyone take that glory away from us or take it from anyone else either.
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