The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s005g12   Christmass    25/12/2012

Do not be afraid ..  Luke 2.10

I guess if I were visited by angels I would also be afraid.   Much is expected of those who have been given much - and I count myself as one who has been given much.

But other folk - I could well imagine them thinking - when was I last in worship? - how much did I put into the collection?   If I were an illiterate shepherd, unable to even read scripture, have I got to be someone else entirely? - have I missed the boat?

And the angel comes and says: 'do not be afraid'.

Many religious people wander about making people afraid -
afraid of being themselves,
afraid of transgressing,
afraid of the sins of youthful emotion,
afraid that the divine might see through my 'keeping up appearances',
afraid because of a choice to use contraception,
afraid of the enjoyment of intimacy,
afraid of speaking my mind, indeed ..
afraid of speaking at all,
afraid of what might be asked of me.

And the angel comes and says: 'do not be afraid'.

A while ago I wrote about avoiding those who proclaim: 'I am he'.   The opposite of this is to embrace the one who says: 'You are you' - the one who says: 'do not be afraid' - of who you are, of being yourselves, of your thoughts, dreams and emotions, of intimacy, of innovation, of ordinariness ..

In some ways this statement for me encapsulates what Christmass and Christianity is all about.   Time and again I hear good people wanting to put Christ back into Christmass, but I wonder if we actually need to protect Christmass from becoming too spiritual, too other worldly.   In some ways I want to reclaim Christmass for the ordinary folk of the world - those who live ordinary lives, those who don't have earth-shattering jobs, those who are not the movers and shakers for the next millennium, those who have enough to worry about providing for themselves and those whom they love without having others pass comment on what they may or may not be able to put into the collection plate or how often they come to church.   In some ways I want to reclaim Christmass and Christianity for the ordinary folk of the world, not the theological movers and shakers who can quote chapter and verse and know just who and who is not going to hell!   I want to reclaim Christmass and Christianity for those who struggle to read, let alone understand the 17th century English of the KJV so beloved of some 'christians'.

I remind myself that my home country of Australia was invaded by poor convicts from Britain, transported to the other side of the world for the crime of theft from the rich and the religious to provide for themselves and those they loved - sentenced by good Church of England magistrates, to steal a country from the indigenous people for the Crown!

In recent times I have found myself in groups convened precisely to be a safe place for people to express themselves.   Indeed I am attending one the very night I am typing these words, though by the time this is read it will have happened.   The 'subject' that forms the lead off for our discussions is provided by Brian, who writes:   'WE HAVEN'T FALLEN!
'Orthodox Christianity teaches that God "created" (past tense) the world, that "sin" entered the world through humans behaviour, and that the only way to obtain God's forgiveness is by the shedding of blood.
'We now know that all three of these premises are incorrect.
'Creation is not completed.   It is still in progress and we may in fact still be near its beginning.   Stars are still being born.
'Sin did not enter the world at the Fall.   Aggression, predation, competition, and other forms of cruelty were here long before humans appeared, and indeed are the very mechanisms that drive natural selection and evolution.   Without these forces we would not even be here.
'And redemptive violence where God is seen to love the smell of blood and require the sacrifice of sons, animals, or his own son in order to forgive, is a cruel and primitive tribal concept unworthy of the creator of the galaxies, black holes, and dark matter.'  Thanks, Brian!

My real concern is that the church itself is NOT a safe place to say these things and we have to find other communities where these can be expressed.   The church is NOT a safe place where we can be ourselves, where truth cannot be explored but only received and accepted.   One of the other leaders of this group posted this sign obviously found somewhere, on his 'Facebook' page: 'You're entering a CHURCH.  You must be decently dressed and remain silent  Thank you for your comprehension' . Thanks Rob!   I suspect that +++Rowan will be able to be himself once he has retired from his office, able to express what he actually believes without being constrained by the church.

Christians argue about the most important thing in the building - the architecture gives it away.  For Catholics and high church Anglicans the Altar is front and centre.  In St Andrews Anglican Cathedral in Sydney 'God's board' is on castors, wheeled in when necessary.   For others the important thing is the pulpit, the bible, the cross, the tabernacle / aumbry, the elements of the Mass / Communion, the font, the organ; some deluded people even think it is the minister :-)   But, of course, the most sacred thing in the building, is the people who are there - whatever they believe or not, understand or not, whatever their abilities or their inabilities, whatever they are able to give in the collection or not - it doesn't matter.  This is the message of Christmass.

I have recently realised that I am a bit of an artist when it comes to scripture, God and faith.   I do this each week, because as I read, interact with those around me, and express my conclusions, my own perceptions change.   I would therefore be the last to suggest that any of my weekly creations, for all I believe them to be ‘inspired’, are the last word on any subject.   For all I might be inspired and capture a snap-shot of the truth, it is not the whole truth and there is ever more to perceive and express and hence to grow.   And I think of the biblical authors, and how they would be horrified to think that their words were being used to set the expression of faith in concrete.  They would be horrified to think that their words were being used to make others afraid of their own perceptions and creativity.   They would be horrified to realise that their words were being used to define inspiration and restrict it to their's alone.   They would be horrified that their words were being used to dismiss further inspiration of God as irrelevant, impious or heretical.

And artists live to create.   What musician doesn't want an audience?   What painter hides their creation away so that no one else can appreciate it, albeit in an incomplete form?  

Christmass is our permission to be ourselves, our permission to create, to express, to grow, to love and to be loved.   It is only in an appreciation of this permission that Christmass is potentially joyful, not just for me but for all.