A Sermon by the Rev’d Joan Claring-Bould
A couple of years ago I had a phone call from a lady who had heard me on 5AA talk back radio a couple of times. (Some of you will know that radio has been a significant part of my life and ministry since I was ordained.) This lady graciously thought that I might be someone who she could talk to about her issues with religion, without being judged.
Julie is a lady about 80 years old. She has been brought up to go to Sunday school and with a connection with the Church, as was common for people of her era. But as she has grown older and more reflective about the world, life, the Church and faith, she has decided that she really is an atheist.
As we meet for coffee at a café by the beach, Julie tells me of her reasoning. “Where is this Christian Peace?” she asks. There is war and destruction all around. (At that time the media was full of horrific pictures of war in Syria). There are natural disasters all around (referring to the bushfires), and awful things happening on our roads, (recently a couple had been killed in a car accident not far from where Julie lives.). And you can’t even trust the Church! (referring to the issues of abuse of children and how they were dealt with by the Church).
There was no bitterness or anger in her voice. This is the earnest lament of a gentle, thoughtful, intelligent woman trying to make sense of what we might call “the sin of the world” or “the imperfection of all things”.
There is no easy answer to Julie’s question. After a time of just being together in the silence we begin to smile and the children and the dogs playing on the grass next to our bench, and joke about how deaf we both are but how we manage to understand each other.
When we left, Julie had no direct answer to her question, but she knows that someone will always listen to her, always care deeply about her and her concerns, and will look forward to meeting with her again in a few months.
Wanting to have an answer for life’s big questions is built into our DNA.
Human beings have always been looking for a Saviour. Over the 4 weeks of Advent we were reminded that God’s People were expecting a Messiah. But the kind of Messiah they were hoping for was a powerful warrior who would defeat their enemies and lead them to a position of power, security, privilege and thus peace.
But, in spite of a few hints from the prophet Isaiah, who could have imagined how God would send this Messiah?
In what must have been one to the most astounding surprises in human history, God chose to send his people a Messiah in the form of a defenceless new-born child, born to a young unmarried woman in the smelly surrounds of an animal stall (for that was the warmest place for the little family to shelter for there was no room in the Inn that night.)
There were no vast crowds to greet the Messiah at his birth, just shepherds (at that time the outcasts of society) yes fittingly, just shepherds came to welcome the new born Son of God!
The power of the Christmas Story is in its simplicity.
It is a simple setting amongst ordinary people that
The Son of God
The Christ Child
The Saviour of the World
Immanuel – God with Us
The Prince of Peace
The Word Made Flesh
The baby Jesus
……………………….. was born.
In essence the birth of Jesus was God’s gift of love to all people.
Year after year we portray the event of the manger scene, and we never lose our excitement over it.
My mind goes back many years to the darkness of a midnight mass one Christmas here at St. Peter’s Cathedral. It was a very hot night and the Cathedral was packed (pre-COVID style) with some young folk down on the cool floor around the base of the pulpit. They were a little worse for wear but happy after quite an evening out on the town. I was a little concerned because the ambient noise was a little more like a café bar than a Sunday service, but rightly, the service proceeded.
But when the moment came when the procession began for the baby Jesus to be placed in the manger, and the organ played over “Away in a manger”, there was a sudden focus and stillness. Then the whole congregation joined in singing their love song to the baby Jesus and at the end for a moment once again there was absolute silence and stillness.
And in that wordless moment, You knew! You knew!
Not that there would be no more suffering, brokenness, evil, tragedy, pain or sin in the world, but that
God is with us
We need not be afraid, for what – ever we face, we are never alone.
God who chose to be born as one of us, and then to die for us will never stop loving us. If we can love God in the manger, we can love God in our hearts. If we can love God in our hearts, we can love God in our neighbour.
And it is this love of God that will bring us our sense of peace in a world where the voice of destruction often seems to rule. It is in the stillness, in beauty, in the experiences of awe and wonder, in the act of kindness and compassion, in the sharing of a journey or a story, in scripture, song, sacrament and prayer that the love and peace of God are made manifest and shared.
The Child in the manger offers us a love that will sustain us through what-ever challengers might assail us, and an inner peace that passes all understanding.
May the Peace, Love and Joy of God be yours this Christmastide.