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

s005g15   Christmass  25/12/2015

‘suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God ..’  Luke 2:13

Do we believe in the literal truth of the Christmass stories?   The virgin birth, the angels appearing to shepherds, the star guiding the wise men to Bethlehem?   We need to be careful how we answer, because if we do we are obliged to believe in a ‘god’ who motivated a fearful king to order the death of ‘all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.   Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children’. (1)   Why would we worship a god who thinks nothing of the suffering of babies and their parents merely to fulfil an ancient obscure prophecy?   What sort of cantankerous and grandiose monster are we worshipping?

Now I am not particularly an animal person and certainly no vegetarian, but even I find these two passages in the bible challenging: ‘The LORD said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid of (the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites and the Hivites), for tomorrow at this time I will hand over all of them, slain, to Israel; you shall hamstring their horses, and burn their chariots with fire.’  (2)   And later, ’David took from (King Hadadezer) one thousand seven hundred horsemen, and twenty thousand foot soldiers.   David hamstrung all the chariot horses, but left enough for a hundred chariots.’  (3)   I wouldn’t worship a god who ordered - not just permitted or excused - such cruelty to animals.  To be clear, to hamstring is to disable by cutting the hamstring or hamstrings; to cripple.  This is to cut any of the tendons that bound the ham of the knee.  (4)   Merciful people euthanise crippled horses.  (5)

I believe it would be helpful, before we start proclaiming how much better or compassionate Christianity is over Islam or other faiths, to realise there is a good deal of inhumanity described in the bible, even in the New Testament.   It is not surprising that real people have abandoned faith in general as well as christianity in particular.

Behind these so familiar stories, if we intend them for public consumption, deal with the inconvenient truth that for all the tinsel, they actually don’t speak to literate, rational, intelligent human beings.   If the purpose of the gospel stories is to get the whole of humanity to believe in the literal veracity of the gospel accounts, I for one have to ask: why?   What useful purpose will be served?   Does our god prefer the gullible?   Are the scientific advances that have so immeasurably benefitted all of humanity and every person’s life, been through the efforts of those who believe the unbelievable, in creation instead of evolution; or through those who have questioned these ‘biblical’ truths?   Surely it is the latter!  

The Christmass proclamation is not that God intervened in history to bless and sanctify the world view of a first century middle eastern patriarchy; but that God continues to intervene in the world in each and every generation, blessing the lives of ordinary people, people just like you and I, in the midst of all the technology, to inspire us to question rather than regurgitate, to love those who are different, rather than to eternally worry if we are going to heaven.

If the Christmass proclamation is that we should return to the world view of a first century middle eastern patriarchy, what we see in the present middle east should demonstrate the folly of such an exercise.  No one in their right mind would want the strife and contention that still exists in the middle east to permeate throughout the rest of the world!   Actually we are trying our best to avoid middle eastern terrorism infecting western secular society!   Why would we ever consider adopting their precepts?   Rather than rejoicing, we would be finding the quickest exit!  

The Christmass proclamation is the inconvenient truth, inconvenient to the church which doesn’t love people as they are, that God does!   The Christmass proclamation is that we finally can be ourselves, and everyone else can be themselves.   This is the reason ordinary people still persist in celebrating Christmass, because somewhere deep inside people, see in Christmass that there is a better more compassionate way of living rather than endlessly trying to live up to someone else’s expectations.   Ordinary people continue to celebrate Christmass and refuse to allow the church to highjack, monopolise and quarantine the unconditional love of the divine from others.   We celebrate Christmass because it is the age old message that God loves people other than straight, baptised, confirmed, communicant, tithing Anglicans of my particular variety!

This is the reason for the joy and goodwill, and if the church ends up criticising the culture of mass consumption at this time, then this will be another in a seemingly endless list of criticisms the church has for ordinary people and society in general.   Perhaps it is the church which hasn’t got the message!   Perhaps the culture of consumption results from the church’s unwillingness to allow real space for people other than straight, baptised, confirmed, communicant, tithing Anglicans of my particular variety to celebrate with us.  Perhaps we might care to look around us in church today at those who are worshipping with us.   Are they not imperfect replicas of ourselves, or those we hope soon will be?

And for all we might be justifiably horrified with the pronouncements by Donald Trump about stopping Muslims entering America, we might look around us and see how many Muslims are worshipping here with us this Christmass!

Christmass is about God blessing us as we are and others as they are, that finally we can be ourselves.  Scripture says:  ‘I tell you, there will be .. joy in heaven over one sinner who repents’ (6) which for me says there is joy in heaven when just one person finally realises they are loved unconditionally.   So when our liturgy of ‘holy communion’ convoys to everyone that they are loved unconditionally, and by that affirmation and inclusion is a sign of that unconditional love, surely then there will be both ‘the angel (and) a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God.’

1.  Matthew 2:16-18
2.  Joshua 11:6
3.  2 Samuel 8:4
6.  Luke 15:7