How do you view the story of Christmas, on this Christmas Eve, 24th December 2017? If your perspective is anything like that of some children (whose views were recorded in a national newspaper), then your take on Christmas goes something like this.
Jesus received a visit from Santa in the stable, was given a car by the wise men and then moved to New York with his parents. Apparently the wise men, (yes, there are still 3 and yes, they are still men), brought precious gifts. One child did say that it wasn't real gold, just the paper sort you buy in shops; oh, by the way, the baby Jesus would have preferred toys instead.
This December sees a Christmas when it is estimated that 1/3rd of the British population has been to the shops to find that last "must have" gift. This year has seen personal debt spiraling ever upward, much of it fuelled by a competitive "keep up" consumer culture. How then can the glory, the love, and the grace of God really shine into our lives and into the lives of all around us this Christmas?
I believe that the answer lies in God's plan and God's choice; firstly in His plan lies the FACT of sending his son into the world with the purpose of bringing new hope into our lives and secondly in His choice comes the MANNER of Jesus' arrival. Jesus – Emmanuel - God with us.
Stop and think for a moment tonight about the events over 2000 years ago. Think about what God did and why he did it. Consider that he sent his son to live amongst the people of the world, so that He (God) could bring about our rescue.
Like ships stuck on the bar in the estuary, without God the human race was and is, marooned. Lost. In danger of shipping water and of sinking as the storms of life rage around us. God’s motive for this rescue act is simply Love: His love for the human race. Why Christmas? Because God loves us, cares for us and wants us to be freed from the things hinder, harm or destroy our well being.
Hundreds of years before Jesus was born, his coming was announced. He would not come as God's emissary, herald or messenger but as His Son. He would not come in glory but in humility. In those famous verses from Isaiah we are told that he will be the Prince of Peace, Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God; He will come to save us from our sins. He would not come with the light but would be the light.
A stable is hardly a well appointed palace; shepherds are not exactly favoured courtiers awaiting instruction; a carpenter and his teenage wife (pregnant at the time of their marriage) are far from the stuff of Kingship let alone romantic novelists.
It is in this humility, not in glory, that we see the vulnerability of God. That is, we see God opening himself up to us, coming in weakness - for who is more in need than a helpless baby?
Here in the stable, in the simple act of birth, an act given eternal consequences because of who was involved, we find God identifying with the lost and the weak, the oppressed and the needy, those in darkness seeking light, those fleeing an occupying ruler. All find their true identity and lasting comfort in the Son of God.
In his birth as an outsider; in his ministry with those on the margins of society -prostitutes, embezzlers, thieves - and in his death rejected by God because of the burden of sin he bore, Jesus identifies with the lost, the sad and the needy. In short he stands for us and stands with us all. This is the heart of the Christmas message; God is here, God is here with us, and God is here for us.
What began in a Bethlehem stable, would have its climax in the brutal ending of a life on a rough cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem.
In the wider life of our nation, these last two weeks have been a roller coaster of bitter contrasts. On the one hand, in countless homes, in millions of ordinary lives, the customary pre Christmas preparations are being observed. On the other hand, we are confronted by Brexit, North Korea’s nuclear testing and war torn Syria. It serves to remind us that our grip on prosperity, a good home, even life itself may not be as strong as we think. Jesus came to a world as the Saviour for everyone in need.
If we try to deny the events of the wider world this Christmas time then we are not facing up to the facts, We are simply looking through rose tinted glasses and seeing Christmas as some kind of Victorian or Dickensian ideal which we strive for but which we never seem to reach.
Somehow the soft focus fades with the first row over cooking the turkey (have you put it in yet?); the thickness of the gravy or whose rules you will use for the board games. If that is how we will see Christmas, then we must be prepared to be disappointed.
But we needn't be disappointed; Christmas can be all that we want it to be with a simple step of faith and a little understanding. It has always been what God wanted it to be! Deep down, we all know - whether we are regular churchgoers or not - that there is more to Christmas than this. We have sought, and are prepared to accept, the ordinary and the commonplace at Christmas when we really can experience the extraordinary and miraculous that is actually not so very far away at all.
Christmas is the most extraordinary story ever told and has stood the test of time for 2000 years simply because it is true and the evidence is plain to see both in the stories of old and in the lives of those who have experienced it since. God did become a man; God did come to live among ordinary people and God did come to rescue us. It’s the most incredible rescue act of all time: you won't find it on 999 Rescue but it’s one that you can know in your own heart this Christmas.
It is this amazing story that comes around every year, yet is a once a year story for every day. Few of us are so wrapped up in ourselves or in our possessions and ambitions that it does not - or cannot - say something to us.
Christmas should not just creep into our lives as a day on the calendar but explode into our lives with a lasting impact - simply because it is not just a one off.
What does it say to us tonight as we reach another Christmas Day? Is this, will this, be the same for each one of us as Christmas Past? Or, will your and my Christmas present and Christmas future be so radically transformed because we have come, we have seen, we have heard and now we rejoice in God's gift to us?