Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 25 December 2020.
• First Reading: Isaiah 62: 6–12 (You who call upon the Lord, give yourselves no rest and give Him no rest until He establishes Jerusalem)
• Psalm 97
• Epistle: Titus 3: 4–7 (He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy)
• Gospel: Luke 2: 1–20 (Jesus born and placed in a manger)
One of the most magical times to be on watch is just before dawn. When the watch begins, all is dark and there are only shadows to stir the imagination.
Then come the stirrings of dawn, the first and faintest lightening of the sky in the east. Shadows become shapes like a dark black and white photograph, and then the colour begins to fill in.
For the shepherds at Bethlehem, the night may indeed have been cold and dark, and dawn may have felt to be a long way off. A time for reflecting on life and looking at the embers of whatever fire was available.
And then all heaven broke loose. We are told that the appearance of the angels was sudden and utterly unpredictable. But heaven itself could not contain its joy at the safe birth of the One promised from long ago.
This was not just the celebration of a new life – it was the expectation of new life for the whole of humanity.
It was the promise that what God had planned was indeed coming to be, and while many had been waiting, from now on the waiting would be different.
Now God was acting and the unchallenged rule of spiritual tyrants was over. Now they would be challenged and God would inhabit every small gathering of believers all over the world, no matter how miserable and wretched their surroundings, no matter how feeble they felt or how inadequate they thought their prayers were.
Now God was sharing these same uncertainties and insecurities, directly and personally.
But more than that, God had taken to Himself the simple and devout faith of an artisan from Galilee and his young wife.
These had become the means of His taking life upon the earth. Mary’s simple ‘Yes’ was going to change the world, and Joseph’s control of his own anxieties and hesitations in a censorious and merciless world was going to provide the place and the time in which the baby would grow up.
When times are settled and there is money in the bank then people may find no need for God and perhaps it is when those carefree times are ended that the normal social protections become more frail and less stable.
These are such times when uncertainty and resentments, distrust and anxiety build upon one another. But these are also the times when the thing that God has done for us in Jesus Christ comes into a much stronger focus.
We may not have been guarding flocks in the fields outside the town, but we will have been going through all sorts of losses, hesitations and denials.
But these also are the kind of days when God also looks to say to us: ‘Here are glad tidings of great joy, for each person and for the whole world.’
And so let us rejoice to receive them for they are for real.