Christmas Day Sermon
Words from Paul’s letter to Titus: ‘when the goodness and loving kindness of our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy’.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There has been no shortage of buzzwords or phrases this year. For this has been a year like no other. We’ve had: ‘stay safe’, ‘control the virus’, ‘stay alert’, ‘protect the NHS’, ‘social distance’, ‘hands, face, space’, ‘save lives’. And it may surprise you that these regulations have even now, been applied to the Christmas Crib. Not by Her Majesty’s Government, but by the people of social media. Here are the new and updated rules to be observed this Christmastide:
1. A maximum of four shepherds only, are permitted in the Crib.
2. Shepherds must wear facemasks (unless exempt) and strictly observe social distancing (2m or 1m+ with mitigations).
3. Jesus, Mary and Joseph form a family bubble and thus may be placed together.
4. The ox and the ass need a Declaration of Non-Contamination Certificates, obtainable from the Department of Agriculture.
5. The Three Wise Men will be subject to a 14-day quarantine, whether or not they have tested negative for Covid.
6. The straw, moss, palm branches and other decorations must be disinfected, with hands washed for 20 seconds after handling.
7. Angels flying over the Crib are now forbidden, owing to the aerosol effect produced by the flapping of wings.
8. Shepherds are permitted, provided they are not more than 70 years old or suffering from underlying medical conditions or in another vulnerable category.
9. The inn, along with other businesses in the hospitality sector, is closed until further notice.
10. For 2020 only, a Pontius Pilate should be added to the Crib to explain to authorised participants the protocols for washing and sanitisation of hands.
It is of course as spoof; but it’s funny nonetheless. All of the rules detailed in it, and all of the rules we have had to follow this year, have had one reason and one reason alone underpinning them: they have been designed to ‘save lives’. The reason for our celebration this morning – this Christmas day – when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us – was for one reason and one reason only: to save lives – our lives, to restore us to the Father.
The scriptures point to the fact:
Isaiah says this morning: ‘see your salvation comes’.
The Psalmists tells us: ‘he preserves the lives of his Saints’
Paul writes to Titus: ‘when the goodness and loving kindness of our Saviour appeared, he saved us’
The Gospel records the words of the angels: ‘to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord’.
Our celebration today reminds us that God has not left us in darkness, but has come to us as light. We have not been left in sin and suffering, for Christ, born of Mary is the face of the Father’s mercy. We have not been left helpless, but by virtue of him coming as one of us today, ‘has delivered us’. Deliverance is at hand. Mercy is at hand. Light is here.
So, more than four shepherds are allowed at the Crib. As the wonderful, and rather appropriate carol ‘In the bleak midwinter’ which we have just heard puts it: ‘if I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb, yet what I can I give him, give him my heart’. The crib calls you today, all of you, not just four, not just the rule of six, not just a select few, but everyone, everywhere, to attend it.
You are invited.
You are invited into the bubble of the Holy Family, you are invited to ‘see your salvation’ to see it in this child, the one who brings light, mercy and deliverance, ‘full of grace and truth’.
To see salvation means drawing ever nearer to him, holding nothing back. The ‘Shepherds are required to wear facemasks, and keep social distance of 2m or 1m+ with mitigations’. In entering the crib, everyone is asked to remove their coverings, their pain, their brokenness, the sins that dominated lives, all of which lead to despair. The God of heaven and earth bids you to place before his manger the things that encumber you and let him heal and restore you – for he is the true key worker – the essential worker – the worker who saves. Do not socially distance from him; but come to him and behold his glory.
We are all invited, we are all called to draw close. And we are instructed not to quarantine – do not delay in doing those things – do not waste the time and the opportunity of receiving from him the life and peace. Do not procrastinate, do not think I’ll do things tomorrow for it is today that he has come, ‘today Christ is born: today the Saviour has come, today the angels sing on earth’.
Singing may well be prohibited at the moment, we can’t risk transmitting the virus, but if we go to the crib and behold him face to face, if we lay our lives before him, if we place our sins before his manger and receive that ‘rebirth’ of his forgiveness and the new life he brings, then we have no choice – we must transmit the Good News. As the angels sang to the Shepherds, we are called to sing with the witness of our lives what Christ has done for us – that he has indeed saved us: do not be isolated in fear, but free in praise.
Our last figure on that list of instructions is Pontius Pilate, the one who washed his hands of Jesus. Do not try and sanitise your lives; for Christ is the great purifier who will make you clean. Pilate did so out of fear. Do not be like him, full of fear. Do not fear coming to the crib, drawing close to Jesus, do not fear what his salvation will do to your lives, embrace him, and know the truth of his love – let it set you free, so that you might know his ‘treasure’ in your hearts.
The new rules are these:
1. Draw near, all people, everywhere.
2. Behold him face to face, placing your brokenness before him
3. Do so today – do not wait.
4. Praise God that he has saved you. And finally:
5. Do not be afraid.
Test ‘positive’ that his life is in you, today, for if you do, you will be, in the words of Isaiah, ‘the redeemed of the Lord’, his ‘holy people’.