A few years ago, someone bought me a copy of Grumpy Old Christmas, which suited me down to the ground. One evening, Clare was sitting alone in one room of our house, when Emily and I heard what we thought was crying coming from Clare’s room. We were both rather worried, so we looked around the door, and there was Clare, sitting on her bed, with tears of laughter rolling down her cheeks. She waved my copy of 'Grumpy Old Christmas' in the air, and said "It's you! It's you!"
Let me read you a paragraph from the book, by Stuart Prebble, just to see if you agree with Clare. In fact, I won't even read from the book...here's some of the blurb about the book from the dust-cover:
"So...'tis the season to be jolly is it? Well, not in the household of the Grumpy Old Man it isn't. In his case, 'tis the season to have to put up with even deeper layers of vexation than usual! Everything about Christmas gets up our snitches. Everything. From parents videoing their precocious brats at the atrocious school nativity play, to the 150th opportunity to see 'the Wizard of Oz' on the Tele, to the Xmas turkey which tastes like blotting paper soaked in a puddle. And how on earth are we really supposed to look happy when someone buys us a tie with a picture of Santa on it?! Eh?"
Now if I'm honest, I suppose I have to admit it. I know it will surprise all of you, immensely, but yes, I am a bit of a Grumpy. There's something about life which brings out the cynic in me. So I know exactly where Nathaniel was coming from, in today's reading, when he responded to Philip's news about the Messiah having been discovered in the form of Jesus of Nazareth. "Huh", said Nathaniel. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?".
Nazareth was just a humble little back-water...nowhere important, nowhere posh. It was full of hard working people, many of whom - probably like Joseph the Carpenter - were working to build the near-by Roman city of Sephoris. The residents of Nazareth were employed in Sephoris in much the same way as the residents of Portsmouth were historically employed in the dock-yard.
I guess that some of us would have pretty much the same reaction if we were told that the Saviour of the World had been discovered in Portsmouth. "Portsmouth?!" we might exclaim. "Can anything good come out of Portsmouth". Or for that matter, Havant?
But when Jesus met Nathaniel, he recognised a true and upright man...despite his cynicism about Nazareth. Nathaniel was clearly someone who was open to new possibilities, however, cynical he appeared. For a start, he was willing to go with Phillip to meet this Jesus of Nazareth...and Jesus saw something in him. As he approached, Jesus said of him "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit". Jesus saw great potential in Nathaniel. Rising into poetic symbolism, Jesus said that Nathaniel "will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man". Jesus uses an Old Testament image - the image of 'Jacob's Ladder' to say that Nathaniel will be part of God's great plan to touch earth with the power of heaven. The picture of ‘angels ascending and descending’ is meant to help us see that God is active and alive in God’s world.
It is Epiphany - the time of revelation. We are those to whom, by the grace of God, has been revealed the news that there is more to life than the simple hum-drum. We are those who chose to say 'no' to the encroaching darkness of so much human life. We are those who declare that we believe God has other plans. Like the Wise Men who went to the Nativity, that's why we are here, isn't it? Week by week, day by day, we pray those words that Jesus taught us "thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven", and in doing so we declare our belief that God is reaching out to touch this dying earth with his living love. We are those who have learned to see the world with God's eyes...not just a place of terror, war, greed, famine and plague...but a place full of possibility for life, health, peace and justice.
Quite deliberately, Jesus now has no other hands than your hands, no other feet than your feet. If words of comfort to the sick and dying are to be spoken, then they are spoken through you. If acts of hope to the lost and the lonely, the homeless or the desperate are to be done, then it is through your hands that God wants to do them. That's why we talk about being the 'Body of Christ' - we, you and I, are God's hands, feet and loving hands to a dying world.
You see, in answer to the question ‘can anything good come out of Havant, let me tell you…it jolly well does! Everyday I see good happening in Havant. Every day I see people like you, deciding to rise above the dull monotony of so much human existence, and refusing to give in to cynicism.
A very good example of that attitude can be found in the Portsmouth Street Pastors – about whom we will hear a little more in our notices today. It is very easy to be grumpy and cynical about young people who get themselves into difficulties on a Friday or Saturday night. “Well, they brought it on themselves, didn’t they? Going out in ridiculous clothing and drinking too much”. That kind of cynicism allows no room for the power of peer pressure – the egging-on that kids do to each other. It allows no room for the young woman who has been dumped by her drunken boyfriend, through no fault of her own, miles from home, with no way of getting there – all because her boyfriend took a shine to a prettier girl on the dance-floor. On our behalf, the street pastors go out and offer God’s love to such young people…they introduce them to a God who does care about them, and who longs to see them grow to their full potential.
Can any good come out of Havant? I want to tell you a little story, to finish. There is one member of this congregation who is a nurse. I won’t identify them…to save them embarrassment. But you might be able to work out who they are. This nurse and their team recently gave such attentive and extraordinary care to one of their patients, that the patient’s family wanted to give them a gift of money. The nurse refused the gift – because NHS staff are not permitted to accept them. Instead, our nurse suggested that the patient’s family might like to give a gift to St Faith’s, in gratitude. On Friday, therefore, I opened an envelope containing a cheque for £3,000.
That story, and that nurse, is a great example of how we can bring God’s love into our every day life, and of the grateful response that such love and service to humanity can generate. And all this is because, in the language of today’s reading from Revelation, we are called to be both a Kingdom and priests who serve our God. This is our sacred calling, and our sacred task – to transform our community so that there can never be any doubt about the answer to this question: “Can anything good come out of Havant?”