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

s005g14 Christmass  25/12/2015

‘she gave birth to her firstborn son’  Luke 2:7

In the words of the 1966 song by Burt Bacharach and Hal David:  ‘What’s it all about Alfie / Is it just for the moment we live / What’s it all about / When you sort it out Alfie
‘Are we meant to take more than we give / Or are we meant to be kind / And if only fools are kind Alfie / Then I guess it is wise to be cruel
‘And if life belongs only to the strong Alfie / What will you lend on an old golden ruler / As sure as I believe there’s a Heaven above Alfie / I know there’s something much more / Something even non-believers can believe in
‘I believe in love Alfie / Without true love we just exist Alfie / Until you find the love you've missed you’re nothing Alfie / When you walk let your heart lead the way / And you’ll find love any day Alfie, Alfie, Alfie.’   (1)

Just what is Christmass all about?   The gospel message is so simple, yet it seems to have been overlaid with so much theologising and philosophising that the simple message has been lost.   I am not complaining about the over-commercialisation of the season - the message of Christmass is not about how many or how few presents we buy and give.   Something profound is celebrated at Christmass - ‘something even non-believers can believe in’ - something which attracted crowds so long ago.   We may not believe in angels and shepherds, stars and wise persons, but they all testify to the significance of the birth of this otherwise ordinary baby.   It touches lives still.   It is the reason we are here today because we perceive this birth has a continuing import to us all.   Down throughout the centuries generation after generation have seen that somehow it is ‘good news of great joy for all ..’.

It has to be something which must be able to be encapsulated in a sound-bite - the 140 characters of a tweet.   Jesus was necessarily constrained by his classical orthodox upbringing and language.   Sometimes modern society, freed from such constraints, can express things very succinctly, such as the catch-cry of the 60’s: ‘Make love - not war’. - just 19 characters. (2)  St Paul, in his first chapter of Romans wrestling with his classical orthodox upbringing says the same thing in language borrowed from Isaiah so many years before: ‘For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions.   Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.   Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.’  (3)  The unnatural passions and shameless acts are not intimacy but persecution of others.   On that road to Damascus he is converted by the 36 character tweet: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’  (4)

But the reality is that this seismic change in religion can be domesticated into just a new form of division between people, and the marginalisation, alienation, condemnation, the persecution of others.

Christmass faces us squarely with the choice - is our religion one of affirming only our own personal religious peccadilloes - or is our religion one that affirms life in all its rich diversity?

So for me the 54 character tweet - the message of Christmass from God is: We are all loved equally, we all belong to one another.   This is something ‘even non-believers can believe in’.   Indeed if the church proclaimed this in both word and action I suspect that there would be few, if any, non-believers.

And religion can, Christianity as much as any other, and religion as often as anything else, mitigate against this.   The message of the incarnation and the message of resurrection is that sanctified selfishness is illusory.

This is why we come, because we know that all are loved equally, that we all belong to one another.   You don’t need me to tell you this - you wouldn’t be here if you did.   We know that this is what God is really about, and even if there isn’t a God, we know that this is what life is all about, and this is worth being thankful for.   And it is good to be thankful with others.

Indeed if the divine is anything other than this, then that god is a demon, not worth worshipping.   Better an atheist secular humanist than a bible believing christian trying to manipulate others quoting ‘No one comes to the Father but by’ his or her own version of who Jesus was.  (5)

We know, you do not need me to tell you that Christmass proclaims that life is sacred - all life - and that the name we use for the divine, the way we worship (or not), our gender, colour, race, creed, or the person with whom we choose to share intimacy are all irrelevant to the primary principle of the sacredness of each and every person.  

We know, you do not need me to tell you that Christmass proclaims that it is our relationships one with another that is important and that if this is not expressed corporately by the church, our personal efforts are in vain.

So part of my journey has been to strip away the theologising and philosophising to find that kernel - the essence of the incarnation.   And when we know the kernel we can evaluate how our corporate practice helps or hinders this kernel that we are all loved equally, that we all belong to one another.   If that gets lost then our devotion is nice, but it is not of God.   As I have prepared sermons week by week it has been like putting a jigsaw puzzle together.   It has been satisfying to see how each piece contributes to the whole picture that we are all loved equally, that we all belong to one another.

And I have to say that this is what many, both within the church, those on the fringes as well as those on the outside are so longing for.   As we sang this morning: ‘O come, O King of nations, bind / in one the hearts of all mankind. / Bid all our sad divisions cease / and be yourself our King of Peace.’  (6)  It is a lovely sentiment, and clearly one that the divine would want.   The sticking block is the church, our own as much as any other, which finds it ‘easier’ just to continue, ‘as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.’

3.  Romans 1:26-27
4.  Acts 9.4
5.  John 14.6