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s005g03 Christmass Lockleys 25/12/2003

"she gave birth to her first-born son" Luke 2.7

One of those really embarrassing times in one's life is when someone unexpectedly gives you a gift for Christmass. I can still remember when I was keeping company with a person of the opposite gender. A month or more before Christmass we were together at the beach and we had this conversation about giving gifts. We came to the conclusion that this gift giving at Christmass was a bit "over the top". I didn't realise, in my naiveté, that *of course* she was fishing to know what she should do. When Christmass came, naturally I gave her a small gift, which caused her acute embarrassment. I think her father lost a bottle of whiskey he was going to get! J I have been on both ends of such scenarios, as I guess we all have, at one stage or the other. Oh! the joys of late adolescence when one hasn't worked out what the members of the opposite gender actually mean when they say things! I'm not all that certain I've learned much since then! J Yes, I know, I'm not as *thin* as some! J

None of us like to feel indebted to someone else. Sometimes, when we get an unexpected gift we are torn between the adages: "Never look a gift horse in the mouth" and "beware Greeks bearing gifts" J Actually all the Greeks I know are good and trustworthy people. How often have I had cause to remember the saying: "there is no such thing as a free lunch"!

At Christmass time, we are presented with a gift, the gift of the baby Jesus, yet like all unexpected gifts we wonder what this means. What am I going to be asked to give in return? If we are honest, then we will rightly scratch our heads and count the cost before committing ourselves.

And as I think about it, I would also want to know where all this might be leading. So what might seem harmless enough in the beginning, might actually take us, by stealth, somewhere where we are not sure that we want to be. For all we might trust God, we have also to trust someone else's interpretation of what God wants, and unless you have a lifetime to study for yourself, you can't be sure that someone else hasn't just got that key piece of information which makes them right and others wrong &endash; or vice versa. And God called us to love one another, not spend our lives searching for the "true" way. Searching might be all right for clergy and other "professionals" but real people have to live their lives and earn a living and provide for themselves and those whom God has given them for whom to care. "Real" people have enough to do in loving those God puts around us without having to engage in such theological speculation.

When I began preparing this sermon, (Christmass sermons are prepare well in advance) I received a glossy publication about a coming evangelical campaign. It is actually very good, because it lists the "end results" of their campaign &endash; "to centre people's lives on God, to connect with other believers, cultivate spiritual maturity, contribute something back, and communicate God's love to others." "This (process) begins with complete surrender of our lives to God". ("40 Days of Purpose" with Rick Warren p4). It sounds all very orthodox.

But I note that this begins with demanding us to suspend any disbelief or uncertainty we may have and ends with our message that we are to commend people who do likewise. This is not the God I worship.

The God I worship came as a baby in Bethlehem not to communicate God's love to others, but to communicate God's love for all, for all men and all women, children and old people, people of every race and language, people who call God by a different name, people who worship God in different ways, rich and poor, saint and sinner, people who dress differently to us, people who relate to others in ways we find unusual. This is who God is and this is how God acts, whether we like it or not.

So as we go through life, God welcomes us and all others, and invites all people to enjoy this relationship. Some people will be surprised that this prodigal nature of God includes them, and happily accept that this is what God is like. Others, sadly, will have to submit. But it is the people who believe that God likes some people more than others, who will find this most difficult. Indeed the religious authorities hated Jesus precisely because he loved people other than themselves &endash; hated him enough to have him killed.

So there is nothing more important than this message and God is quite prepared to spend our lifetime gently getting us to accept this. For God doesn't do this for the sake of himself or herself. God does this so that humanity can live together in peace.

If God acted just to create another arbitrary division between people, to say how evil the unbelievers are and how good Christians are &endash; then I can assure you that I know unbelievers I would trust before some Christians. There are gay teachers with whom I would welcome associating with my sons. God didn't act in sending Jesus to have another go at getting lots of people to worship in a particular way or believe some particular doctrines.

If *god* acted just to create another arbitrary division between people, then that *god* is truly a demon, not worthy of worship.

The God I worship will never ask me to hurt another in the name of God, and will never ask me to hurt myself either.

So often when we pray we fail to hear God answering. God answers, not audibly, but in actions, reassuring us that we are loved and that others are loved as equally as ourselves.

I sometimes wonder what I am doing here in the pulpit speaking to you. Or perhaps I wonder what you think I'm doing here in the pulpit speaking to you?

I suppose some people might think I'm here trying to convince some that a baby called Jesus was born this time 2009 years ago. I'm not all that sure that such a conviction is likely to change the world all that much. Actually, I think that most people have heard that this is what this time of year is about, even if they are not at all sure why anyone would celebrate year after year, when the world seems just as desperate as before the last celebration.

Others might think that I'm up here reciting all the arguments as to why this particular baby was special. The angels, the shepherds, and the wise persons who visited all show this to be "true"? The world should be changed - but of course humanity hasn't believed enough. Perhaps some think that it is my task to convince others to believe more as if, if we believe enough, people will act differently.

Others might think that I'm here to try to convince some that Mary was still a virgin after she was pregnant with Jesus. I mean God likes those people who believe this more than God likes those who don't!

God loves us as we are. It is not a competition for God loves all people.

I do not care if you choose to come to Church on a regular basis or not. I do care that all find the grace to accept themselves and other people as we and they are, for it is this that will make a difference to the society in which we live - it is the God given good news.

The reality is that I can point you in the direction where people go to Church and in all sincerity, are taught that those who are women are lesser citizens, hardly people at all. I can point you in the direction of a Church where *everyone there* believes in the 6 day account of creation (as if there was only one account in the Bible), and therefore anyone else, like those who believe in evolution, is looked down on. I can point you in the direction of a Church where it is taught that each and every expression of intimacy between people of the same gender is an abomination to the Lord, and are consigned to eternal damnation.

If I may repeat, what I care about is that all find the grace to accept ourselves and other people as we and they are, for it is this that will make a difference to the society in which we live - it is the God given good news. I don't care where you find God's grace to accept yourself and other people, be it through word, sacrament, fellowship, prayer, crystals or whatever, because we and all people are precious in God's eyes.

The joy of Christmass is that God loves everybody, and that a spark of the divine is found in each and every person, you as much as me, from the tiniest baby to the oldest person here, from the seemingly self assured to those in fear and trembling. The authorities and powers who readily sacrifice others in the name of national security or the *kingdom of god* will ever deny this spark of the spirit in others, but they are wrong. Even if they crucify the Lord of Life, that will ever be unsuccessful.




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