Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 25 December 2022.
• First Reading: Isaiah 9: 2-7 (For to us a child is born and … the government will be on His shoulders)
• Psalm 96
• Epistle: Titus 2:11-14 (The grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people)
• Gospel: Luke 2: 1-20 (The decree of Caesar Augustus – Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem)
I suppose that the whole point of having a lighthouse is so that it can give warning of hazards at sea. During the day they are visible and can be used for plotting a ship’s position – I am thinking of the days before GPS.
But at night they come into their own for their lights are distinctive and their sequences are shown on the charts. The light stabs out into the darkness in a given measure and from it a vessel can know how close it is to the shore and to that special hazard.
Again, I am speaking of days before GPS, but those trained in paper navigation are told that they are no electronics available. They must rely on paper and pencil skills.
But for a people in darkness, especially at sea, the difference between light and darkness can be the difference between being afloat and stranded on shore. Possibly life and death.
For any people in dark times, and yes, our times are indeed dark, the provision of lights to show the way is important.
And so Isaiah writes of a people in darkness seeing a great light. In his time, Jerusalem was threatened by siege and destruction, even the deportation of its people. This was a desperate people and secure and wise guidance was essential.
The prophets were there to provide it when the politics was murky and the threats were daunting.
But his message is one of hope and promise – the kind of hope that is delivered without quarrelling over its precise terms and limitations.
And in reflecting on the birth of Jesus, Christians look back at Isaiah and keep finding that while what he said made sense during the sieges of Jerusalem, they also made sense as they looked at Jesus and at the church.
When Israel was occupied by Rome and preoccupied with religious regulations of a spectacularly petty kind, here was an event that threw a completely new light on the times.
When rulers could be cruel and arbitrary, this would become a vision of just and honest dealing, without hidden agenda or manipulation beyond proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
In the midst of petty jealousies and rivalries, power struggles personality cults – such as the supposed deity of Caesar – something else was happening.
A baby is not exactly unusual. Mothers had been giving birth for a few million years. Childbirth was not the miracle – the miracle was God.
God among the people – the baby who would grow up wholly human and yet fully in a natural and untarnished relationship with God.
A baby to grow up without moral compromise or nuance. One wholly at one with God and able to speak, act and live with the full authority of God.
A baby that would not have to stand on His dignity concerning His standing with God and was wholly free to bring the love of God in action into peoples’ lives.
A love more glorious and transcendent than any other that can be known in the normal human experience, and yet which would be willing to face the judgment of God for the sake of people who could never do it alone and survive.
Now we are talking about something far more significant than normal human emotions or relationships. It is more than the process of human power-broking and power structures.
These relationships will fade as our eyes close in death. But the agenda that Jesus brings goes beyond that ‘final frontier’.
It is something that brings us face to face with God and the dimensions of eternity.
Perhaps it is small wonder that when the birth of Jesus was announced to the only people around who were awake – the shepherds – that all of heaven broke loose and praised God.
A new song for a new time. Glory to God – to be worshipped and adored like none other in human history.
Peace on earth – God’s peace and not a sullen ceasefire which breeds generational resentments; God’s rule rather than the compromises of power blocs and interests.
God’s justice rather than the victors’ justice – or it is revenge – after a political or military campaign.
Now the birth of Jesus is also a story for our times. In the midst of threats and resentments, we find One who lived in a Roman occupied land and had to earn his living while paying His taxes and finding the rent for His home and workshop.
But this was different for He would also have a message to give and a story to tell. There would be lives to heal and souls to restore.
And that would only be the beginning.