readings on which the sermon
below is based can be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r005.htm
s005g10 Christmass 24&25/12/2010 Hanmer
In the name of God, Life-giver, Pain-bearer and Love-maker.
(Fr Jim Cotter http://www.cottercairns.co.uk/)
‘The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had
heard and seen, as it had been told them’ (Luke 2.20) .. and they
were never heard of again ..
Christianity is a strange religion. The most significant events
we celebrate, Christmass, Good Friday and Easter, each celebrate things
that happen in places other than in church. Jesus
wasn’t born in a church, cathedral, synagogue, temple, mosque or other
‘sacred space’. The cross likewise happened outside the
city, the resurrection in a ‘bury patch’. Despite this
‘christianity’ makes a big deal of going to church.
The birth of Jesus happened in no different way than all other
births. Having been at a couple as no doubt some of you
have as well, it is a painful, inglorious and bloody
affair. Modern obstetrics do a very good job to lessen the
pain, the indignity and the mess, but essentially childbirth, which
happens many times each day globally, doesn’t change.
Similarly the God of Good Friday and Easter is found in a degrading
death and an empty tomb, other taboos of sanitised
religion. Sanitised religion rejoices in peace, dignity and
order. It abhors pain, indignity and blood.
Today we celebrate the fact that the most significant event of
Christmass happened not in a church, cathedral, synagogue, temple,
mosque or other ‘sacred space’, but in an event that is replicated in
the day to day lives of so many people. This is where God
is found, not in churches, cathedrals, synagogues, temples, mosques or
other ‘sacred spaces’.
I mean, the doctrine of the virgin birth implies that Mary and Joseph
were never physically intimate - how unreal is this! It is
nothing that I could live up to even if I wanted to - which I don’t!
If you are coming to church this Christmass, because you have believed
the message that the sanitised church has successfully proclaimed, that
this is where you will come closest to God (and only if we’re wearing
our ‘Sunday best’) - don’t believe it! I think sanitised
religion is wrong. You and I find ourselves closest to God
when we are living in the real world of pain, indignity, blood, birth
and death - when we get our hands dirty.
‘Christianity’ - like most other faiths - is inevitably tainted with
neo-colonial aspirations: that our success is determined by the number
of bums on pews or dollars in the collection plate. But
Christmass turns this upside down and inside out and says that God is
not ‘in here’ but ‘out there’.
The Jesus whose birth we celebrate today told us to love our enemies
not convert them into replicas of ourselves, to read the bible like we
do, to worship with us, believe the same things as we do and be
intimate when and with whom we approve (so it becomes so much easier to
put up with them). None of these things were ever mentioned
by Jesus, but sanitised religion blithely ignores this.
Why then do we come to church and celebrate these things?
Well, perhaps because we rejoice that the real God is already present
in our lives - in the day to day activities when we get our hands dirty
with the affairs of this world. There are a multitude of
ways that you might have perceived God in your life, and indeed I would
encourage you to look for God when you’ve got your hands
dirty. There is no one way of experiencing the divine, one
kosher way, and certainly not here. But having found God in
our day to day lives, it is good to celebrate this with
others. We come together not to suggest that others have to
find God in an identical way to us, or to suggest that we are better or
more spiritual than others - for these are again an attempt at a
neo-colonial spirituality. But we come together, because it
is good news that God is found out there, and it should be a delight to
recognise that my experience of God is both unique and not
unique. Our God, by whatever name we call him or her, continues
to touch each and every one of us ever so gently.
Some of the great Christian theological themes reflect precisely this.
Often you will have heard some ‘christians’ speak of being born again -
but usually they are born again into a ‘holy huddle’. But
Jesus was born into the real world and those who have retreated into a
‘holy huddle’ are precisely the ones who need to be born again into the
real world, not those who are already there.
Another great theme of Christianity is the atonement, where
‘christians’ talk about being at one with God. Well at
Christmass, Jesus came into the real world. If we speak in
orthodox language the event we celebrate is Jesus leaving the Father to
be at one with ordinary humanity. So Jesus says the most
important thing is being at one with the world - not God.
It was precisely those who were most conspicuous in their devotion to
God - those who would claim that they were at one with God - who had
A third theme of Christianity is repentance which is mostly interpreted
by ‘christians’ as something other people have to do, by coming to
church, believing the things we do, and being intimate only when and
with whom we approve. Recently some Anglicans called on the
Anglican churches in America and Canada to not ordain openly gay and
lesbian persons as bishops and to stop blessing same gender
couples. Their ‘communiqué said the two provinces
must show "genuine repentance" for actions that it said show they
"continue in their defiance as they set themselves on a course that
contradicts the plain teaching of the Holy Scriptures on matters so
fundamental that they affect the very salvation of those
The unfortunate thing for such ‘christians’ is that Jesus words about
repentance are directed towards those who were most conspicuously
devout and who separated themselves off from others. It was
they who had to repent of their separatist and neo-colonial aspirations.
Today we celebrate that Jesus came to be with us as real people, not
when we are devout, orthodox or when we do the right thing.
Jesus came, not to Anglicans, Christians, or people of faith, he came
to all of humanity, whatever name they use for the Almighty, however
they worship, whatever race or language and with whom they choose to
share their intimate affections - and this is good news for all - well
it is good news for all except for those with separatist neo-colonial
Our service today is but a vessel, a structure provided so that we can
come together and each severally silently express our different thanks,
prayers and concerns to the divine. It doesn’t need me or
anyone else to put them into words to make God hear. The
essence of the divine is that whoever he or she is, they accept
difference. As someone has quipped, God must love ordinary
people in all their diversity, for he or she made just so many of them!
Christmass and christianity say that dignity and sanctity are to be
found in ordinary life, in the times when we are in the world relating
to others. Dignity and sanctity are found in school room
and hospital ward, in community groups, when we get our hands dirty;
indeed when we are intimate in the bedroom.
The aim of Christmass and christianity is that people live together in
harmony, yet often the Church, being the church, is a cause for
disunity. I well remember in another country in a community
noted for its ethnic diversity, the city council proposing an
interfaith service, celebrating the various cultures and faith
traditions that brought such richness to everyone. It was,
of course, the fundamentalist ‘christians’ who opposed the
proposal. It is interesting that the term ‘fundamentalist’
is mostly associated with Moslems, yet there are as many and as vicious
fundamentalist ‘christians’ about! And church people wonder
why the community has given up on the church? Is it any
wonder hospitals want chaplains like a hole in the head!
So actually there is something real to celebrate this christmass,
indeed it is worth remembering and celebrating regularly, that God
gives dignity and sanctity to our ordinary existence. We
might do this in church, or we might do it looking at the mountains,
the sea, looking at or creating a fabulous work of art, listening to or
playing a piece of music, having some quiet time to
ourselves. It does call us to recognise the presence of the
divine in others too, a message the ‘church’ is as apt to forget as
well. And if we take the commandment to treat others as we
would be treated ourselves, if we want others to recognise the divine
in us, we must surely begin by recognising the divine in
others. I mean - that’s what Jesus said, didn’t he?
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