Christmas Day All Age Holy Communion Homily, 2017
This was a story directed specifically to the children in the service but it is a story for all, so I’ve included it here…
There was a Scottish farmer who refused to believe the Christmas story.
Though his wife and children went to church, he refused to, and often made fun of them. “Why should God lower himself to be like us? That is stupid talk”.
Once when it was snowing, the family went to church. The farmer noticed that the snow was getting much worse. Suddenly he heard a thump against his window and then another. He went out to see what was happening. There in front of him was a large flock of geese which had got lost in the storm.
The farmer was kind and felt sorry for them. He wanted to help them. He realised that they could shelter in his barn.
He got behind them and tried to drive them in, but they only scattered,
he tried by laying a trail of food to the barn door, but the geese did not take any notice.
There was nothing he could do to get them to enter the barn. About to give up on them he said to himself, ‘Why don’t they follow me?
If I were a goose, I could lead them into the barn. If I looked like one of them, I could save them.’
Suddenly he stopped and thought about what he had said: he could only save them by becoming like them.
Suddenly he understood the great love of God for people
He fell to his knees in the snow and gave thanks to God for his great love.
So kids, I am going to talk to the adults about
Joy of Father God,
Joy of the Angels,
Joy of the shepherds and us.
Inbetween each word we will sing a verse from Joy to the World as printed in your readings bulletin. So you can ask your parents later what Joy was all about! Yeah?
Joy of God the Father.
The great events of Christmas, the Gospel told us, begin with power. ‘In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree. Everyone must return to his home town.’ (vv1-3).
Only men needed travel for this census which assessed the number of people who could be taxed and the number of men available for military service. Caesar showed his power and Joseph – though Mary need not travel – travels with his heavily pregnant wife… He expressed his power and yet behind the scenes one much greater is expressing his power. The Creator God.
Caesar is the instrument the Lord God uses to fulfil the prophecy in Micah 5. The Messiah was to born in Bethlehem BUT Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth 120 kilometres away. How can it be? And so the Lord moves the hand of Caesar Augustus to write the census.
It encourages us that events and actions of nations can be moved in accordance with his will, the Lord remains in control always, which is encouraging in the midst of the year we have had.
But when he puts things in place in the days of the Caesar, what look is on his face? What feeling is within him?
What look on his face – what am I about? What is that feeling inside our Heavenly Father?
I’d suggest joy. Joy of God. We know Joy is part of God’s character, for example we see joy as part of the fruit of the Spirit, and it says in Hebrews 12 –
‘‘for the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross scorning its shame.”
The joy set before him. Why is the Messiah to be born? What is he to achieve? Christ is to be born, the prince of peace, the wonderful counsellor, and he comes because God seeks to be in relationship with us, for the barriers we had erected to be removed and now is the time for the Saviour to come – he will be called Jesus, the Lord God saves.
Maybe you have been preparing for a wedding – all the preparations all the details – and the day is here! Joy!
Maybe you have been expecting a child, dealt with the discomfort, did the practicalities, which colours for the room, which name, which languages to speak to them. Then the baby is born! Joy!
In scripture we see a golden thread of salvation history of God working out his plan to redeem us all – from Genesis 3, through patriarchs, a people chosen and formed, prophets promised, lots of detail, lots of time and now – it is here – I imagine the joy that could be in God – ‘now, finally, the time has come, the wall is to come down…’
The Joy of the Father.
Joy to the world (we sing).
Joy to the World, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare him room. And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and heaven and nature sing.
Joy of the angels.
While shepherds washed their socks – or rather watched their flocks, the angel says:
‘I bring you good news of great joy – today in the town of David a saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.'(vv10-11).
Later we hear
‘Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace to all on whom his favor rests.’ (v14)
Wow! Why is it good news of joy? God wants a relationship with us. Relationships are important. We travel home at Christmas – I remember doing it many times while at University – the bus, the train, the ferry, in sometimes very lively seas – I have a story about that but not for now! – and then late in the December evening meeting my Dad as he’s pick me up. My parents loved it I was coming come. And we see the people who have returned home here at All Saints – or who are visiting kin here – from America, UK, Spain…
Christianity is about first and foremost about relationships than rules. It is about the most important relationship of all – our relationship with God who made us. God does not set the world running and doesn’t care about us. The birth of Jesus shows he wants that relationship as John writes:
”to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”(John 1:v12).
He knows of the barrier that our sins have created between us and him, but God wasn’t content to sit back and see if it work itself out. He acted. That is good news of joy. God wants us back. He has not given up on us, and he never will.
The sky then is filled –
“a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel praising God…”(v13).
You know I think really think, this is the only time, we see angels openly praising God with the human eye. There are plenty of visions where we see this happen – in Isaiah, in Revelation of course – and we are told by Jesus of angels rejoicing when a sinner repents. Yet, this is not a vision, the messenger is there and he is joined. And how appropriate, perhaps the only time, angels appear, outside of a vision, in human view, to praise and celebrate what has happened. They give glory and praise to God.
It is worth simply pausing. The only time in human history this has happened and the next time, will be when the Lord returns. What does that say about how special, important this night is? They reflect the joy of heaven? The word for joy is chara – which is very close to the Greek word for grace – charis – joy at the grace of God. Knowing the grace of God brings joy – we remember, grace is we get what we do not deserve. And knowing grace, experiencing grace brings joy.
And the sky explodes with angels. They know the awesomeness of what is taking place…God’s grace is happening. The Joy of the Angels.
Joy to the earth, the Saviour reigns. Let men employ their songs. While fields and floods rock hills and plains repeat the sounding joy repeat the sounding joy repeat repeat the sounding joy.
Joy of God. Joy of the Angels. Joy of the Shepherds and Us.
The shepherds have listened and they say – Let’s Go – no hanging around. Determined. Expectant. Excited.
Think back to what the angel’s first words.
”Today in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you. You will find him a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (vv11-12).
They are not commanded to go, they are told
and they are invited to go and see.
Consider who this incredible announcement is made to – not to palace officials, Roman Governors, to high ranking member of the Jewish religious establishment but to shepherds.
Shepherds were near the bottom of the social scale in their society. Not only were they poor but in some rabbi writings they were seen as unclean. They just couldn’t keep up with the ceremonial rules of washing. So, when the invitation is made, how could they know they would be welcome?
The angel says –
‘you will find him a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.’
Jewish peasant homes did not have a room separate from the house for the animals but the space for the animals was attached to the house – the places the animals ate from were mangers. It said to them, the Messiah born in a house like their own. The Christ Child was not born in a mansion or wealthy merchant’s guest room, but in a home like theirs. Good news. A sign for the lowly shepherds. A sign that they –
poor, unclean in eyes of some,
poorly educated, yes
But invited, the first to receive not just the birth announcement card but an invitation to come and see the new born Messiah. The Christ Child who comes for the rich and influential, AND the poor and needy. The socially unclean were judged to be clean – to visit the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The outcasts became honoured guests.
The shepherds say ‘let us go…’ and they go and it says they hurried … and they went, they saw, they spread the word and they praised and glorified God.
They go, they see it is true, the baby is there. They go, they hurry, they see, they are the first to greet the new born King, and they are the first messengers of the good news of his birth. The shepherds are the first evangelists.
But the joy of the shepherds. It says, as they went, they praised and glorified God – Greek word can also be translated joy. Joy at learning that it is all true – Christ came for people like them, that God seeks to build a relationship with all and not just some, he gives up on nobody.
For us. Joy that God comes for all of us, he seeks to build a relationship with all of us, his son is born to bring down the wall of sin between us and Him.
Joy that the great salvation is now available. That was the joy in the skies that night.
And God does not give up anyone.
Joy of the Father, Joy of the Angels, Joy of the Shepherds, Joy of us.
Final Verse we sing
He rules the world with grace and truth.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love…
Revd Grant Crowe