Carol Service

Sermon Date: 
19 Dec 2010
Bible Base: 
Christmas Readings

David Jeans

I wonder who are your favourite characters in the Christmas story (excluding the baby Jesus)?
There are three of the sets of characters that appeal to me.
The first two appeal to me as a bloke. I quite like the down to earth nature of the shepherds. As you probably know, shepherds in New Testament Palestine were not regarded very highly. You can imagine an upper class twit in Jerusalem suggesting that if unemployed northerners from Galilee wanted a job, they could always come down to the fields around Bethlehem and be shepherds.
There they were out in the fields at night. Just another night. Not looking for anything. Probably never noticed the star. Sky’s full of stars, what’s one more? Probably not talking about anything significant – maybe about the new barmaid at the inn. Probably not too many questions in their heads beyond where is the next meal coming from. Living life one day a time, glad of each day that comes. They wouldn’t be able to afford to follow a star halfway round the world, even if they understood why they were doing it.
The other guys that really appeal to me are the Magi/Kings/ wise men. Some blokes like to be thought of as wise. When we were carol singing at SWFC last Wednesday we sang some carols before the dinner for the Wise Old Owls (actually some women there too).
I like the wise men because they were searching for truth. Last week I watched a programme on BBC Four about science on TV. Great factual series like Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Richard Attenborough’s Life on Earth, going right up to the impossibly young Brian Cox and Wonders of the Solar System. They also reminded the viewers of the eccentric science presenters like Magnus Pyke and the incomparable Patrick Moore. They included too some of the science fiction – Quatermass, A for Andromeda, Blake’s Seven. And of course the wonderful  Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, with its quest for the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything. And everyone over a certain age might know the answer – 42!
The wise men were searchers. They wanted to know what life was about. They had probably spent months if not years following the star (probably a comet).
Shepherds going about their daily work – not particularly looking for an answer to any questions. Wise men seeking the truth. Which is like you? Which was the Christmas story for?
The great thing about the Christmas story is that it isn’t just for intellectuals. Now me, I’m like the Magi. I ask awkward questions. I love lines in carols like ‘There within a manger lies, He who built the starry skies’. That gets my grey cells going. But the shepherds weren’t like me. And, thank goodness, not all of you are like me. You may like concrete things. Sheep, stables, donkeys, oxen and asses. Angels. Crib scenes. You may not think much about their ultimate philosophical and theological meaning. But they send a shiver down your spine.
That’s the shepherds. They weren’t searching for ultimate meaning – far too busy and practical for that. But God met them where they were. Out there in the cold countryside God met them through the angels. They weren’t expecting angels. Nobody expects angels ! But there they were, and these shepherds going about their business were directed to the baby Jesus. And they saw him., told their friends and praised and glorified God. We don’t know what happened to them. It doesn’t say ‘And they went to the synagogue every Sabbath for the rest of their lives.’ They just knew something wonderful happened.
There are some other important characters. The Angels. What is their job?
Surely it’s to help the others understand what is going on. Their job is to interpret what is happening, to help people to see what God is doing. They told the shepherds that the sign they would see would be a child wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. Now this is not simply the ‘how will you identify which is the right child’ sort of sign. It’s not about standing under the clock and Bethlehem station and you will recognise him by his swaddling clothes. The sign is in the very ordinariness of this child. It shows us that God became flesh and dwelled among us – as an ordinary bloke in an ordinary family. As a carpenter. As a Galilean from the looked down on northern part of Israel.
But when we look on this ordinary looking bloke – as we see the things he did and hear the things he said – we behold his glory.
The angels are messengers.  That is what the Church is here for – at Christmas and in the rest of the year. To direct searching wise men to Jesus as the clue to the meaning of life. To help the shepherds understand that experience of the chills running down your spine that Christmas brings. An experience that is about God searching for us rather than us searching for God.
So who are you this Christmas ? Actually we are all a mixture. Sometimes we are like the Magi with our big questions. Let the star of Bethlehem point you to Jesus as the answer to those questions.
Sometimes we are like the shepherds. We don’t understand all this theology talk; we’re not even sure why we come to church at Christmas. But we know that shiver going down our spine – we know that somehow we’ve been touched by the presence of God. Worship God, and find some angels to explain it to you. Perhaps you need to find the Magi in you and start to ask some questions.
If you have found Jesus by being like the Magi or like the shepherds or by some other route, then God calls you this Christmas to be his angels, his messengers, explaining to others – intellectually gifted Magi or intellectually challenged shepherds – just what all this about. So that those you talk to, like the Magi and like the shepherds may go on their way praising and glorifying God.
The Christmas story is good news to all sorts of people – shepherds, wise men, and all in between. It is good news about a God who comes among us as an ordinary bloke. It is good news about a God who does not stand on ceremony but wants a relationship with you and with me, whether we are rich or poor, wise or not so wise, beautiful or plain, fat or thin. Its good news for you – whatever sort of person you are. No-one is beyond the reach of this good news..
And its good news to be proclaimed; good news which still needs messengers. Hear the good news afresh this Christmas – and pass it on!