A sermon for the first Sunday of Christmas.
I had a strange experience a couple of years ago. I was standing in my garden, in the early dawn, when suddenly I saw the face of Jesus looking back at me, from the grass. Just his head...as though someone had buried Jesus up to his neck on my lawn. It was quite a shock, I can tell you - until I realised that what I was actually looking at was a football which our dog had chewed to pieces. In the right light, it looked just like the face of a bearded man, looking right at me.
My first thought was 'E-bay'! I could make a fortune. The face of Jesus on a Vicar's football...that would be worth something! But then, it set me wondering. For a start, no-one actually knows what Jesus looked like. There are no portraits of him by anyone who knew him. We have a picture of him in our minds – white skin, long blond hair, beard, and so on. Just like the Jesus in our stained glass window behind me. But actually, the chances are that he would have had short hair, no beard (in the Roman fashion of the time) and a middle eastern face. So on reflection, I decided that pedalling dubious images of Jesus wouldn't be very appropriate. So I booted the ball back up the garden!
I wonder whether you have ever tried to imagine the face of God? It's impossible of course. But I think it is possible to imagine God's expression, at least. I imagine God looking, frankly, disappointed. I imagine him looking at the mess our world is in, and being rather perplexed, to say the least.
He must be perplexed at watching the uber-wealthy businessmen getting richer, while the homeless, the poor, and the COVID-related jobless struggle. I wonder how disappointed God’s face appears when he ponders the inequality between nations – when he sees that some nations, like ours, will all be vaccinated by the summer; but some nations will never be able to afford the vaccine. I wonder what God’s face looks like when he sees the rise of popularism and fundamentalism across the planet.
I especially wonder what God’s face looks like when he contemplates the sheer waste involved in the celebration of Jesus’ birthday. According the waste-disposal company, PHS, something like 4.2 million Christmas dinners are wasted in the UK each year. That equates to approximately 263,000 turkeys, 7.5 million mince pies, 740,000 slices of Christmas pudding, 17.2 million Brussels sprouts, 11.9 million carrots and 11.3 million roast potatoes!
Each year, the UK spends a combined total of around £700 million on unwanted presents! 227,000 miles of wrapping paper is thrown away each year. 1 billion Christmas cards are also put in the bin.
As well as imagining God's expression, I wonder if we could try putting ourselves in God's shoes for a moment. What would you do about all these problems? If you were God?
Perhaps you would be tempted to jolly-well sort it all out. Perhaps you would appear on a thunder cloud, and lay down the law with an iron fist, coupled with the threat of thunder bolts and lighting (very very frighteningly! Galileo, Galileo...). Perhaps you would use your almighty, omnipotent power to force people to be kind to one another.
But, if you did that...you might find that you have a new problem. Instead of a human race which chooses of its own free will to love you and worship you, you would have created a race of puppets. You would have reduced the beautiful thing that a human being can be into something not much better than a toy. Adam and Eve - reduced to Ken and Barbie. And any love or worship they offered you or one another would be a poor thing indeed. A mere shadow, a fabrication.
So, what do you do? How do you persuade human-kind that there is another way? How do you speak a Word to them that they will hear, and to which they can respond with all their hearts? Here's what you do...
You send them your Son - a human being who is so filled with God that he can say with integrity "I and the Father are one". You send them a Word clothed in flesh. You show them what a human life can be like if it overflows with God. You send them a Word which reveals the full glory of God by living the kind of life that God calls all his creation to live.
You send them...a baby. You send humanity the most fragile form of humanity that you can conceive. You do it so that humankind sees that the glory of God is not shown in acquiring wealth, or looking after number one, or living in hate - but the glory of God is shown in the weakest kind of human being possible...a baby, in a stable; the son of a peasant woman in a backwater of the mighty Roman empire.
If you could stand in God's shoes today, perhaps you too would send humankind a Divine Word clothed in flesh. For at Christmas, God comes to us as a human, to show us what it really means for us to be human. By a life of selfless giving, total sacrifice, total love and compassion, Jesus shows us the heart, and the face, of God. That’s what the shepherds saw, and it’s why they went away glorifying and praising God.
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