Friday, December 17, 2021

A Christmas Carol - is that it? A Sermon for the Annual Community Carol Service with Havant Rotary Club.

Text: John 1 

I have a confession to make.  I like the Muppets’ version of A Christmas Carol.  It’s one of my innocent pleasures at Christmas time. 

“It's in the singing of a street corner choir

It's going home and getting warm by the fire

It's true, wherever you find love it feels like Christmas”

As you all know, I’m sure, A Christmas Carol tells the story of three ghosts, visiting the old miser Scrooge.  They confront him with some realities, and they set his path on a new future of joy, hope and love.  Scrooge’s inner-humanity is awoken by a reawakening his sense of connection to his past in a happy community, making him feel guilty about the poverty of his workers in the present, and by terrifying him into realising that no-one will mourn his passing in the future.  

Of course we all love the scene at the end, when a repentant Scrooge changes his ways, and joyfully showers Bob Cratchet and his family with long-overdue love.  ‘God bless us, everyone’ indeed.  But is that it?  Is that the message of Christmas?  That happy childhood memories, a dose of guilt, and the threat of a lonely death, might encourage us to put our hands in our pockets for the poor?

Perhaps that is enough.  After all, the poor of the world can certainly use our help.  And if it takes a bit of tugging on the heart strings to get us to release some of the wealth we hoard, then so be it.  If some mistletoe and wine gets us to think of others for a while, instead of ourselves, then it is to be welcomed.  I’m sure that Rotarians the World over can see nothing wrong in that – with their motto of ‘service above self’.  But I ask again, is that it?

Interestingly, according to Charles Dickens, Scrooge’s radical transformation happens without any recourse at all to the origin-story of Christmas itself.  There is no manger, no baby, no God, in Dickens’ Christmas parable.  And this, I suggest, should make us wonder…

You see, I fear that A Christmas Carol, and all our many traditions of Christmas, are in danger of scratching the surface, without ever penetrating to the heart of the Christ Mass.  We can all enjoy some mince-pies and present-giving.  I always look forward to the Dr Who Christmas Special.  But unless we penetrate the heart of the Christ Mass, what are we achieving.  When the decorations are taken down and boxed up, and the gym memberships soar in January, what actually have we achieved?

The Christ Mass, which we will mark at 11pm on Christmas Eve, is the most Holy Night of the year.  Together, we will gather here in the dark of the night, to declare that the Light has come.  In the words of John Chapter 1, we will remember, and celebrate, that “the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”   Amid the turmoil of a world being ravaged by a pandemic, in which markets are collapsing, old alliances are crumbling, 100,000 Russian troops are poised on the edge of Europe, and 5 billion human beings are living in poverty, we will declare the coming of the Light. We will announce, celebrate and assert that the darkness WILL NOT overcome the Light.

[Turn off the lights]

Look what happens in the dark.  The light of the few candles we have lit tonight penetrate the might of the darkness.  There is darkness all around us…but even one candle would not be overcome.  The darkness cannot put out the light.  The light shines in the darkness…

[Turn the lights back on]

The light, of course, is a metaphor….for the coming of Jesus Christ into the world.  We are asked to take a step of faith, a leap into the darkness, in fact.  We are asked to trust that God has a plan for the world, a plan which finds its greatest expression in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

It’s a plan which we see unfolding, in a thousand tiny lights, every day, here at St Faith’s.  Whenever someone visits a lonely housebound parishioner, or when someone is helped to move forward with a Discretionary Fund gift…  When an alcoholic finds support, or a sufferer with dementia experiences love… When a youngster finds their creative spark through Dynamo, or a homeless person finds warmth and care… In these and a thousand other ways, light shines in the darkness, in the name of Jesus Christ in whose honour this place is built.

Jesus, you see, is the antidote to the darkness.  In a world which valued imperial power and mighty palaces, Jesus was born in a stable to demonstrate that there is another way, the way of simplicity and humility.  In a world which took sickness for granted, and blamed the sick for their own illness, Jesus offered healing.  In a world in which education was the luxury and privilege of the elite, Jesus offered teaching and wisdom to all.  Then, in a world which used violence to put down dissent, Jesus offered no violence in return, but transformed the violence into resurrection life.  

Ebenezer Scrooge found salvation, of a sort, by being forced to reflect on his life, his choices, and his future.  Shame, and the fear of death were his motivators.  But Jesus offers us salvation through focusing on his life, his choices, and his future. 

In Jesus, our shame is wiped clean, and our future is assured.  His light shines in the darkness.  He invites everyone to his table, at the Christ Mass on Christmas Night, and every Lord’s Day after that.  I hope you’ll hear his invitation. I hope you’ll come too – not just to the stable at Bethlehem, in its warm soft glow.  But to the refining fire of a life of faith in the Word made flesh, the only hope of the earth, and the Saviour of the World!  Now that’s a Christmas Carol worth singing!  Amen.

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