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

s009g14  Second Sunday of Christmass  5/1/2014

'grace and truth came through Jesus’.  John 1.17

I sometimes think wryly that I am as much a monarchist as I am a ‘christian’.  When I was young (and before we got our own Australian national anthem) we sang: ‘God save our gracious Queen’ to begin Primary School assemblies, and one of the marks of the Queen is that she is invariably gracious.   Gracious to all, rich and poor, whatever their faith or lack thereof.   A pity the same cannot be said of some who consider themselves monarchists.   Similarly the Jesus I worship is also invariably gracious, gracious to all, rich and poor, whatever their faith or lack thereof.   (Jesus regularly addressed the disciples as ‘Ye of little faith’ (1)).   A pity the same invariable graciousness cannot be said of some of those who consider themselves as followers of Jesus.

It would be a very special Christmass to be able to be in Bethlehem and at the Church of the Nativity.   It would be one of those most sacred places to visit.   Yet I wonder if it is actually more sacred than the birthing suites in the local public hospital.  

Our faith teaches us that each and every person is so sacred that God came to live among us.   Christmass is God genuflecting to humanity and to each and every one of us - that is how sacred WE are!   So the place of our birth is sacred and the midwives and doctors who assisted are similarly sacred.   I wonder how often the church proclaims the sacredness of the birthing suite, where as likely as not a baby is being born right at this very moment?   Or, when I come to think of it, the operating theatre, where people are enabled to walk, to hear, to see, to be free of pain, to be given a reprieve from a sentence of death?   Is this not a sacred place?   Surely the surgeon doing a heart operation is handling the sacred and he or she does it every day.   And the hospital wards where care is extended to all, surely these are sacred places too!   The school classroom qualifies as well.   Here society invests time into the training and education of (mostly) young people, enabling them to be all that they can be, for themselves, for their families and for society at large.   As I look around the various people and places in the hospital where I work, the cleaners, the sterilisers, the laundry, the kitchen, the administration, the engineers - all have a vital role in the provision of care and healing of others.   Everyone is interconnected, and being interconnected, the whole can make a real difference in individual’s lives.

And this has led me to think that modern first world countries are characterised by a global interconnectedness which could not have even been imagined in times past.   Today we share technology and expertise across continents and countries.   Today when a conflict breaks out in South Sudan the rest of the world knows it and efforts are made to avert bloodshed or to alleviate the suffering.

Today we are our global brother’s and sister’s keepers and we are also beginning to recognise the need for stewardship of the planet.   Today we know about poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, systemic marginalisation and religious denial of dignity that is not just in our own backyard and we attempt to remedy these things, albeit not always successfully.   And this global interconnectedness is an expression of love of neighbour.

First world countries enjoy a greatly extended life expectancy largely due to soap and antibiotics, though this has led to the spread of super-bugs.

It is amazing that the modern production and distribution of food has led to many more people enjoying variety in their diet that would have been unknown a century ago.   I can remember when 'KFC' first came to South Australia and we wondered if they should use rabbits instead of chickens!   When Mary first came to New Zealand there wasn’t a 'MacDonalds’ on the South Island.   Yet I also ponder how many people were very grateful for the fast-food outlets in Christchurch through the series of earthquakes, not just for the sustenance, but also for the company.   It is not surprising that studies show that those with good nutrition grow taller.  (2)   That being said we are increasingly becoming divorced from sources of food which is sad.  

In first-world countries we most often sleep in our own bedrooms rather than families sleeping together.  We have become divorced from growing up where sexual intimacy is a normal thing happening around us, and as a consequence we have become obsessed with sexuality and intimacy which would bewilder our ancestors.

All this makes me wonder, do we look at things around us and see only the deficiencies, or do we see the positives?   As a church do we retreat into a preoccupation with the arcane disputations of past centuries or do we engage constructively with what is happening around us, to join in the interconnectedness in society, to make a difference in people’s lives?   I recall a comment made of an Archbishop in the 1980’s that he brought that diocese, kicking and screaming into the 1950’s :-)

Do we spread the grace of God?   Or do we spread religious distain for secular things?   Even worse, do we proclaim that we as a church could do better?  

And as I realised last week that I had 'completely overlooked the spirituality of being a parent caring for the new-born’ I begin to appreciate that there is also a spirituality of engagement with the present, with the secular, with technology, with life, that I have neglected.   And those engaged in this are inevitably, unsurprisingly and rightly impatient with a church that insistently demands that this is irrelevant to the divine, to Jesus, to ‘salvation’.

Do the words: ‘Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ mean that those engaged with the present and the extension of the very real benefits of global interconnectedness should be dismissed as selfish or evil?   Are our disputes over chasubles or surplices a way of avoiding engaging with the present?

Certainly the world is not a perfect place.   Certainly there are many who do not enjoy the benefits of first-world countries but spending an hour on our knees each week or complaining that the government should do something about it is not very constructive and nor does it make manifest the grace and truth that Jesus came to bring.   And grace and truth are clearly evident in those in society labouring to bring relief to those who do not share in the wealth we enjoy, those suffering from poverty, homelessness, disease, the ravages of conflict, and the denial of dignity - those amongst whom Jesus was incarnated.

(1) Matthew 6.30