Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
The New Year honours will be known soon – and will be followed in May by the general election campaign.
The honours are there to publicly reward those who have excelled in the service of their country – for civil and indeed political and military works of merit.
The honours are given in response to excellence but can never define it – and those who perform these feats of excellence can never demand the honours. They can only receive them – and bask in them.
The honour is a reward but not a wage given for pre-determined work, or right, like a pension. It is not a pre-determined prize as for a sporting competition.
It is wholly in the gift of the giver.
The election: the parties will compete in offering rewards to their supporters, eg by improving the welfare state or reducing the burdens of the law – and they will punish their opponents by outlawing things that their opponents like – eg fox hunting (already done) or propagating messages deemed unacceptable by the winners.
But law cannot give life or indeed freedom. It can only take it away. It can convict and condemn but it does not release or forgive, let alone create life.
Jesus was born under the law of Israel: religious and civil. He was presented in the Temple in accordance with the law and the offering of a poor family was made.
But He came to release us from the demands of the law and in order that our lives may be guided and led by His Spirit and personal presence.
He came so that we may live with His voice and word within us as a permanent presence and comfort.
He came under the law and within the law in order to replace it with something greater, which builds and blesses and grows, rather than condemning.
It was by coming under the law that Jesus was able to set it aside in favour of His personal life within the whole of the world.
And He did so by placing Himself as a permanent sacrifice and offering in place of endless offerings made daily and weekly in the temple.
In short, Jesus replaced the word of the law by the word of His life, available to all, giving correction rather than condemnation, and offering life rather than regulation.
He offers eternal adoption into God in place a realm of dust to dust and ashes to ashes, for ever.
That is why we celebrate Christmas rather than just a mid-winter festival: and it is a celebration that does not die out with the New Year’s return to work.