The readings on which this
sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r005.htm
s005g13 Christmass 25/12/2013
(the shepherds) made known (to Mary and Joseph) what had
been told them about (their) child. Luke 2.17
I find it interesting that strangers tell Mary and Joseph
about who their baby, Jesus, was. And this is not an
isolated example, the three wise men do likewise. It is
not as if Mary and Joseph don’t know. It would be hard
to forget an angelic visitation, something that they each had
had around the time of conception and early pregnancy.
It seems that despite Mary and Joseph being the vehicles of
God’s surprising intervention in human history, it was others,
the poor and the heretic, who provide confirmation.
Even despite Mary and Joseph’s angelic experiences they need
encouragement to believe, encouragement from outsiders.
And I realise that this is something the Church doesn’t much
get from society. The perception is that the church is
opposed to the things of this world. The church often
takes on the task of critiquing politics, capitalism and
consumerism, seeming all the while, to the outside observer,
blind to her own inhibitions, divisions and ambitions.
Clearly within the western world church attendance has been
dropping for many years. Recent census figures in New
Zealand are typical. (1) The advent of
television and effective contraception have profoundly
influenced society which the church has found confronting.
I am thankful to Kathryn who passed on someone else's
comment that it was the liberal churches who have suffered the
biggest decline, precisely because people come to a liberal
church out of choice, and they realise that God is served in
the market-place more than in worship. Conservative
christians are not given this choice. So large
mega-churches are no sign of healthy religion.
And, by and large, conservative christians don’t much care
what the world thinks of them. They do their own thing
and are content to be ridiculed or dismissed as irrelevant.
To them this is a sure sign of their rightness.
Some even welcome the prospect of martyrdom as conclusive
evidence that they are doing what God wants.
But right at the beginning of the gospel we see others, the
poor and the heretic, affirming the gospel to the major
players! Indeed throughout the accounts others
acknowledge Jesus to the chagrin of the orthodox. 'Why
does your master eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ they
ask accusingly. (2) They don’t want their God
cavorting with others. Jesus comment that he was only
sent ‘to the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (3) surely
means that Israel needed to witness the attractiveness of the
good news to others. St Paul has similar thoughts when
he speaks of the orthodox and the devout: 'So I ask, have
they stumbled so as to fall? By no means! But
through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles, so
as to make Israel jealous. Now if their stumbling
means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches
for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!'
So the lack of people of good will coming to worship is a sure
sign that the church hasn’t got the message right no matter
how devoted we might be. Others are not seeing the good
news in us. Modern women have been freed from a life of
procreation and subservience - why would they give this up to
a church insisting on the subordination of women? LGBTI
people have found an acceptance and dignity in society - why
would they bother with a church that is still debating this?
Modern people have shared the wonder of the microscopic
and the telescopic - why would they bother with a church that
still debates evolution?
The message of the shepherds and the message of the Kings is
that real incarnation is welcomed by well-meaning people.
If we don’t find the church’s message welcomed it is
because the world does not perceive real incarnation
happening. The world perceives the church as
proclaiming a pretend incarnation - the sort that restricts
itself to devout and orthodox people. So the world sees
the church putting up barriers around God, keeping second
class citizens at a distance - those who think, question, take
responsibility for their own lives, those who have a life
outside the church. It is not surprising to me that an
increasing number of people in first-world countries answer
‘no religion’ to census questions when the incarnation the
church proclaims has essentially excluded them. The
increasing number of people who claim a spirituality testifies
to the fact that the divine is not dead.
This Christmass we rejoice that God has become human, like you
and I. God has become human to dignify real life, not
us when we feel religious or altruistic. God comes to
lift us and all people to our feet, to restore our primal
human dignity, to stand on our own two feet before the
Almighty (rather than cringe) and to think and reason and
choose (rather than comply). And our task is to
proclaim this to others, whatever their belief or not,
whatever their station in life, however they choose to worship
or not, and with whomsoever they choose to share their
When we do this, when we proclaim a real rather than a pretend
incarnation, we can be sure that well-meaning persons will
respond, though we need to remember that they will mostly be
poor and heretical, and may well disappear into anonymity
straight afterwards as both the shepherds and the Kings did.
Recently we, and a whole lot of well-meaning people
have rejoiced at the actions of Pope Francis - he has even
made the front page of 'Time’ magazine as their ‘Person of the
Year’. (5) Yet he too will need our encouragement as
the Vatican conservative mafia do their best to obfuscate and
When we proclaim a pretend incarnation people see through our
devotion to the real selfishness behind it, and in doing so we
proclaim a selfish ‘god' - a demon in disguise, which the
world is right to reject.
But the Christmass message is that the incarnation is real,
and as we allow the reality of this to flow through us to
others, we will find all sorts of people travel large
distances to rejoice with us, encouraging us to continue to
proclaim the message of acceptance and inclusion. Amen.
(2) Matthew 9.11
(3) Matthew 15.24
(4) Romans 11.11,12