Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 31 December 2017.
In one of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ films, the ubiquitous Captain Sparrow instructs the ship’s crew to observe the ‘Pirate Code’ which essentially meant leaving any stranded crew members to their fate. Including him. Only, when having been detained and then having reappeared it was decided that the ‘Pirate Code’ was really a guideline, to be interpreted as circumstances determined.
And there are other codes, perhaps more rigidly adhered to, like the Highway Code. There are the design guidelines which planning authorities publish in order to set out what is considered to be good design and what is not, when they are looking at applications for planning permission.
So: there are laws, codes, guidelines, orders, directions, and every imaginable combination of authoritative statements telling us how to live.
And this is not a modern invention for when Jesus was born, there was not only the laws of the 10 commandments, but there were as Psalm 19 puts it, laws, testimonies, statutes, judgments, commandments, and if observed in a godly manner without evasion or imposition then they would indeed lead a soul into life and favour with God.
Which was fine if you had always lived in such a land and understood the wording, the meaning and the practice of these subtleties of life. And if you did not then you could come under condemnation quite easily and harshly, even if by mistake.
But this was the law that Jesus was born under, and this was the society that He would grow up in, and where His early years would be learned what the laws and principles of life were, and how they were applied. Later He would meditate on what they really meant and what they were really intended to achieve.
And so, as required by the law, Mary and Joseph presented their firstborn in the temple with the required offering and they named Him Jesus.
This was the name given by the angel, for the baby would save the people from their sins. He would enter that dark place of condemnation taking the blame for the darkness and corruption of people’s hearts and minds and the grossness of their thoughts and actions.
But Jesus came under the law in order to suffer the penalties of the law, including the curse of any one who hangs on a tree (and in this, the Roman Cross was an entirely acceptable substitute). Although personally innocent of any and all possible charges He was treated as being guilty anyway and was dealt with accordingly.
Somehow this sounds very modern where accusation is now treated as proof of guilt, especially if the accuser could claim to be suitably offended by the alleged actions.
And so Jesus died under a parody of the law. If guilty, God would likely not have raised Jesus from the dead: but in the sight of God, Jesus was wholly innocent, and being innocent then God would indeed vindicate Him in the resurrection.
And this is all very well if it only stays in the tales of things some 2000 years ago, and of academic interest only. But it is not. The things that Jesus said, did and suffered are critical for us today for they bring life to the dead of heart, they bring peace to the troubled and the turbulent, they bring wholeness to the broken and suffering. And above all they bring acceptance before God where there was only judgment and condemnation.
In short Jesus’ birth means that He was on the path to the cross – so that we may be put on the path to a new kind of life. A life where God is not so much judge but ‘Abba’, Dad.
All of this is so that we may all find new life in Jesus Christ Himself, and meeting Him daily in the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
This is the freedom that God always intended us to enjoy and in which the law of Israel would be a good law, leading and coaching us into that kind of relationship. This law would be fulfilled by both the death and resurrection of Jesus and by the giving of the Holy Spirit to the church.
But there is something else for the purpose of the Holy Spirit is always to bring us back to Jesus. It is to remind us of His words and actions, and to reinforce their impact on us today, 2000 years later.
And that does not mean allowing us to assert that our own desires and preferences are Christ-like or Godly. Instead it is to make us more fully inheritors of the wealth that awaits us. We are to find a home in a new kind of wisdom, and a peace in a new kind of living.
It means reaching out to God with the eyes of a child and calling on Him as ‘Abba’ – Dad, or Daddy. It means adopting the simplicity and trust of a child while living within the complexity and subtlety of a society that prides itself on its rejection of God.
And that applies even when the society puts its lips to multi-culturalism, but rejects the reality of the living God: born, crucified and risen, all under the law, even despite it.