Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas....Just stop it!

 A Sermon for Christmas Eve
Gospel Reading:  Luke 1.67–79

Then his [that is John the Baptiser’s] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
   for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
   in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
   and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
   to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
   before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
   for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
   by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
   the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
   to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

There are many for whom Christmas is a completely joyful time, filled with excitement, the tingle of anticipation, dreams of mangers and shepherds, parties and people. There are, I’m told, SOME people for whom the writing of Christmas cards is a joy, and for whom the wrapping of presents is an exciting activity.  There are SOME people, apparently, who take pleasure from battling through the supermarket with an overloaded trolley, heady with anticipation of munching their way through its contents.  There are those for whom the annual ritual of setting up a tree and decorating their home with shiny plastic baubles is joy-giving, and like-enhancing.

But, I suspect that for many people Christmas into actually fails to deliver the ‘peace on earth’ that the angels proclaimed.  For many, the pressure to conform to society’s idea of Christmas actually drives them into acute states of anxiety.  

A little meme was doing the rounds on Facebook yesterday, which a lot of people shared.  It went like this:

“My bedroom closet is full of Amazon boxes.  Zero presents are wrapped.  Laundry is everywhere.  Kids are screaming and fighting.  The house looks like a crime scene, and the only food in the pantry requires a recipe that I’m not sure I can pull off.
“Also, I’m 90% positive I’m forgetting something….or someone.
“This is fine.  I’m fine.”

Did you know that there is actually a diagnosable mental condition, called ‘Christmas Anxiety Disorder’?   And that applies to normal Christmases.   This Christmas has anxiety piled on top of anxiety, like snow falling snow on snow.  Many people will be jobless, or coping with only 80% of their wages on furlough.  Many are reliant on foodbanks, or the kindness of strangers.  Quite literally thousands of lorry drivers are waiting anxiously at Dover, for the chance to get home to their families for Christmas.  Others will be grieving the loss of loved ones, some just a day before Christmas, from COVID.  Medical staff, funeral homes, shop workers, teachers and council staff are on their knees.

Into this level of anxiety…how does a preacher preach?  What possible comfort and joy can I offer, to a world so anxious?  What can I say which would not feel like a little happy-face dinosaur plaster over a gaping wound?

The Father of John the Baptist, Zechariah, prophesied that the coming Messiah would lead us out of darkness and into light.  He would create the circumstances in which we could serve him without fear – without anxiety – in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.  God’s tender mercy would break over us like the dawn, and he would guide our feet into the way of peace.  

So what happened?  Where is this peace?  Where is the holiness and righteousness we were promised?  Where is the tender mercy of God?

Here is the problem:  human beings consistently, and persistently, have rejected God’s way to peace, holiness, righteousness and mercy.  God has done his part.  He sent his son to both live for us, and die for us, teaching us with his own mouth and body what God is like.  God has done what Zechariah prophesied.  

He has opened the way to life which goes on for ever.  It’s a way of selflessness.  A way of charity.  A way of generosity and sharing.  A way of prayer, and of study.  It’s a call to worship God with everything we have, and everything we are.  It’s a way of caring for creation, and for one another.  It’s a way of putting God first, in all things.     

But human beings, as a species, have chosen another way.  We’ve chosen the path of pleasure-seeking, the path of self-realisation and individualism, the path of wealth-accumulation, the path of consumerism, the path of excess in all things.  Rather than a simple, prayerful service of thanksgiving for the birth of our saviour, the Christ Mass has been turned into a hedonistic, resource-gobbling, greedy, pleasure-seeking excess of unrecyclable plastics and metals, rotten over-ordered food, frantic travel arrangements, and impossible expectations.  It’s no wonder that Christmas makes us anxious!

So what can I say as a preacher?  I can say only what I believe God to be saying…and it’s this:  Enough!   A silent night, in a sparsely-equipped stable, in the quiet arms of one’s closest family was enough for the Lord of Heaven.  Why isn’t it enough for you too?  What are you looking for?  What do you think you’re going to find among the glitter and the mountains of presents and the billions of cards?  Stop it!  It’s enough!

Search for the kind of wealth that does not rust, and which thieves cannot break in and steal.  Search for the light which shines in the darkness of all human life, not the plastic light of a Christmas decoration.  Search for the Narrow Way of living a life in community with others, in forgiveness and love.  Search for God, in a stable.

For where meek souls will receive him still, Zechariah’s prophesy still has power.  The dear Christ will enter in.


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