Jesus the heart of the story

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Sermon Date: 
23 Dec 2012
Bible Base: 
various
Preacher: 

David Jeans

I really like the logo we have used for our Christmas publicity this year. Just looking at it reminds us of the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus. And the title that came to us was ‘Jesus the heart of the story’.
First, that’s a reminder to us that as we celebrate the Christmas story each year the question to ask isn’t ‘what are we going to do for Christmas this year’ it’s ‘what are we going to do with and for Jesus this year’. I do get a bit cross with all the cynical media people having their Christmas celebrations while conveniently forgetting (or worse disparaging) the Jesus who is at the heart of the Christmas story and whose shoelaces none of them and none of us are worthy to untie. Christmas without Jesus is meaningless. It becomes just ‘Winterval’ – Christmas without Jesus has nothing to offer beyond a midwinter holiday and a reason for families to get together. Christmas without Jesus can never be the light that shines in the darkness that the darkness can never overcome. Christmas without Jesus can never bring us life in all its fullness. Christmas without Jesus can never bring real peace to the world. And if PC Britain tries to take Jesus out of Christmas we must say ‘no!’.
But we chose ‘Jesus the heart of the story’ as a title because we have been looking at Jesus as the heart of a much bigger story. As a church we have been looking at the whole story of the Bible through a set of readings called ‘The Essential 100’. When I say ‘story’ I don’t mean it’s not true. It’s a story because it describes a series of events with a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s a story because it has a plot, and it has characters.
And the character at the heart of this story is the God we see in Jesus. The Bible is not primarily an instruction manual or a recipe book for how to live. Listen to Rob Bell in his book ‘Velvet Elvis’:
The Bible is not pieces of information about God and Jesus and whatever else we take and apply to situations as we would a cookbook or an instruction manual....When was the last time you read the owner’s manual for your toaster? Do you find it remotely inspiring or meaningful? You only refer to it when something’s wrong with your toaster. You use it to fix the problem, and then you put it away.
We have to embrace the Bible as the wild, uncensored, passionate account it is of people experiencing the living God.
Doubting the one true God.
Wrestling with, arguing with, getting angry with, reconciling with, loving, worshipping, thanking, following the one who gives us everything.
We cannot tame it. We cannot tone it down. If we do, then we can’t say it is the life-giving Word of God. We have made it something else.
In our studies in the Essential 100 we have been following the story of the living God and his relationship with people and with the world. When Jesus entered the story a couple of weeks ago we were asked the question ‘What is your favourite name for Jesus?’ People will have said light of the world, Saviour of the world, bread of life, Son of God, son of man and so on. My favourite name for Jesus is ‘Immanuel’. We normally say that Immanuel means ‘God with us’. But the order in the Hebrew is ‘Im’ – with – ‘Immanu’ – ‘with us’ and ‘el’ – ‘God’. So the Hebrew comes out as ‘with us God’.  And so for me this Christmas I’ve particularly seen Jesus as showing us the God who is the ‘with us God’.
In being the ‘with us God’ Jesus is the heart of the story that is all about the God whose whole purpose is to be with us and have a relationship with us. In the beginning God walks in the garden, God wants a close relationship with people. And when that relationship breaks down, God’s whole purpose is to restore that relationship. He chooses a people to be with; again and again there are episodes in the Bible where God says ‘I will be with you’. He says it to Moses; he says it to Joshua; he says it to Jeremiah; he says it to the people rebuilding the temple in the book of Haggai. He travels with the people of Israel in the desert as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
He refers to his purpose of being with us in his name – after saying to Moses ‘I will be with you’ he says his name is ‘I will be who I will be’. God wants his identity to involve being with us. He is the ‘with us God’.
So Jesus fulfils all of that first part of the story in being ‘Immanuel’ – the ‘with us God’ become flesh.  He becomes part of an ordinary human family; he shares food with us; he does most of his teaching in people’s houses or in the open air, going to where people are rather than expecting them to come to him. He goes to parties with ordinary people, he isn’t just interested in religious people (whom he actually often is highly critical of).
He then invites us to be part of the story. He tells the disciples to go into all the world and make other disciples, promising to be with them as they do it. The ‘with us God’ wants to be with all people, and the Bible ends with the wonderful vision of the new heaven and the new earth where God is with his people for ever.
But of course, the Bible doesn’t end – it’s an ongoing story. Rob Bell again –
The Bible tells a story. A story that isn’t over. A story that is still being told. A story that we have a part to play in.
The part that we have to play is the same part given to the disciples, and indeed the same part given to Abraham who was called to be a blessing to all peoples. The ‘with us God’ is with us – but he does not want to stop with us. He wants to be the ‘with you God’ (which I think would come out as Imkemel if I have understood the Hebrew properly). He promises to be with us particularly when we share him with others. He wants to be the ‘with you God’ – he wants to be with all those we come into contact with. And if you don’t know his presence with you this Christmas he wants to be the with you God for you as well. Ask him daily to be with you to lead you and guide you. Talk to him and listen to him.
A friend of ours sent us a card when I became Vicar of Wadsley in 1988. The picture was of a slice of toast with honey on it. The text said ‘ Don’t Keep the Faith, Spread It’. As we celebrate Jesus who is God with us let us pray and work that God may be with others too.