Tuesday, 22 January 2013

The Time For Waiting Is Over

Sermon preached by Penny Wheble at St Martin's on Christmas Eve 2012

The time for waiting is finally over!

Angels sing of great joy for all people and shepherds race to the small town of Bethlehem to a barn behind the village inn.   Inside they discover a newborn child of peasant parents lying in an animal’s feeding trough.  As unlikely as it would appear to the ordinary person, these shepherds who are working the midnight shift see a wonderful miracle of God.  They return to their sheep celebrating and praising God with great enthusiasm for what they had seen.
  • This was not big news in Jerusalem that night.
  • The great Roman Empire missed it.
Yet this is the event that evokes cries of joy and celebration from the lips of kings and prophets of Israel throughout the ages.

You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy, they rejoice before you...   For a child has been born for us, a son given to us...  Isaiah 9:3&6

O sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord all the earth...   Psalm 96:1

The writer of the New Testament letter Titus reflects back on the event and points to the reason for the joy and celebration.  For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all...
And today, 2000 or so years later, we too come to celebrate the birth of a peasant child who was born in a stable.

And who was this child who was born to parents so poor and so without influence or connections that they could not manage a simple room for a mother in labour?

The prophet Isaiah tells us who the child is, but can we believe it? 

"For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders and he is named,
Mighty Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace."  (Isaiah 6)

Surely there is some mistake here!

How can One so great even visit such a place as a barn in a second class town in a third rate nation -- much less be born there.  And placed in a manger -- a feeding place for lowly animals?
Surely a mistake has been made!

Where are the heralding trumpets?  The dancing maids and cheering throngs?   Why has the whole nation of Israel not turned out for the celebration?  Why do angels and choirs from heaven to lowly shepherds -- common labourers -- make an earth shattering announcement and sing anthems from the gates of heaven?

What in the world is God thinking?

If you were in charge, would not a Mighty Counsellor have at least a suite in a four star hotel?
I know that I would find the best room in town for the coming of a child a prophet had called "Mighty God and Prince of Peace." Even if there was a chance that prophet was wrong -- would we not err on the side of gaining the favour of such an important child and his parents?
One thing I am absolutely sure of.  If a real, honest to goodness Prince of Peace came to our Walsall today, I am sure there would be an incredible gathering of the most important people in town. And if that Prince of Peace for any reason did not have a place to spend the night -- is there anybody here who doubts that the finest suite in the area would be cleared out without delay?

And do you think for one little moment that the "movers and shakers" in Walsall would make haste to announce the coming of this Prince to the third shift workers over in the factories?
I wonder. Would they send someone to tell you about the coming of this Prince? Would I be included?

What in the world was God thinking?

We gather to celebrate a story that touches our hearts at the core.

Mary and Joseph make the long journey by donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Mary is going to have a baby and the mean old innkeeper won’t give them a room. Jesus is born in the barn behind the inn and placed in a manger. His entourage and adoring guests are shepherds and animals.

It’s a story we love. And yet… would you want these circumstances for your daughter and grandchild? And if you think about all of this for very long, the question will seem so very natural.

What in the world was God thinking?

There is a clue in Luke where the shepherds are out in the fields going about their shepherding in the night when an angel from God showed up and the blazing white light of the glory of God lit up the landscape. Luke tells us the shepherds, "…were terrified…" The old King James version has the familiar, "and they were sore afraid."

The words used to describe the shepherd’s experience are from the Greek words "mega" and "phobos". What the shepherds felt was "mega fear!"  Fear that rates as "big time fear!"
Here’s the clue into what God is thinking by sending the Prince of Peace to the place and through the people in our scripture. When the shepherd’s were quaking in their boots and covering their eyes from the brightness of God’s glory, the angel says, "Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people."

The Lord God wants you and me to know that Jesus has come to bring us good news of God’s love and grace. He brings salvation, not condemnation – renewal, not retribution. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, not of punishment. God wants us to rejoice in, not hide from, the glory of heaven.

And just how does God approach us with this amazing and life changing news?

The One Isaiah calls, "Mighty Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace," becomes absolutely, totally, 100% vulnerable!

Can you get your head around this amazing truth? The heart of the celebration we share at Christmas tonight is the truth that the God who came to us in the birth of Jesus is…

The God who is vulnerable!

The whole Christian message begins with…
·         Parents who are poor.
·         A mother in labour with no place to go.
·         A newborn child with no crib for a bed.
·         Visitors who come to see the child who have no influence.

So you see, there is no reason for fear. There is no barrier to overcome. No person is too poor, or too uneducated, or too insignificant to come to the Christ child who is sent by the God who is vulnerable.

Such a wonderful truth can only be contained in an open, receiving, adoring heart.

I’d like to end with words by John Harvey
On this night of the year, a voice is speaking – can we hear it?
‘I know the cares and the anxious thoughts of your hearts.
I know the hard times you often give yourselves.
I know the hopes and ambitions that you have for yourselves and for others.
I know your doubts, too – even while you seek to express your belief.
On this night, I want to find a way of saying to you:
You are deeply, deeply loved,
Just as you are,
Forgiven, loved and challenged to be
The very best you can be.
So I’m speaking to you in the only way I know how –
From a stable,
In a child born into poverty,
Soon to grow to maturity,
Born to show you,
In a human life,
The love of God.’

O come – let us adore him!

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