Crows Nest Uniting Church
Advent 4 • 21 Dec 2014


Service of Lessons and Carols


Rev. Chris Udy



An Introduction
 
There’s a paradox
at the heart of Christian faith:
How can a human being be God?
 
It’s a conundrum;
a mis-match, a surprise -
and that paradoxical conundrum
has been the engine generating
energy and inspiration
for carols and poems,
artworks and millions of sermons,
since the Gospel Christmas stories
were first written.
 
How can a baby,
born into poverty,
and on the wrong side
of wedding vows,
also be our Lord – our cosmic King –
the one to whom
we offer our highest allegiance,
and the one whose Law of love
commands our deepest obedience?
 
The Christmas stories
were the first attempts
by those who follow Jesus
to put that paradox into poetry.
Matthew and Luke each tried,
in their own way,
to say that Jesus had been,
right from his birth,
both fully human – a baby, a child -
and also something more,
and, to tell their stories,
they pulled together
elements and images
to express their essential truth:
that God was born;
that when we listen to Jesus
we can hear the voice of God;
and that when we imagine
what the face of God might look like,
we end up looking into the eyes of Jesus.
 
The story Luke told,
and the story Matthew told,
are very, very different –
not really compatible at all -
but every year we pull them together
to make something
that’s always a little bit awkward –
a little bit tense and pressured –
like Christmas Dinner.
And then we add in traditions
and hopes and promises
from the Hebrew Bible and Hollywood
and other unlikely places,
words that once meant something very different,
but which now are part
of that bigger Christmas story,
building layer upon layer
of meaning and significance
Until now we have
this engine of inspiration and energy:
this complicated story
that has given us carols, and readings,
and works of art,
to focus our celebration
and to help us remember
that as good as Christmas food might be,
and as nice as it is to get a Christmas present –
the miracle and meaning of Christmas
isn’t anything we can eat or exchange.
The meaning and the miracle of Christmas
is in people.
It’s in the people we spend time with:
family, and friends,
and neighbours, and strangers –
people, with all their quirks and foibles
and their irritating habits
and outrageous opinions –
as well as their love, and patience,
and their forgiveness of our faults –
it’s in the people we spend Christmas with
that we also encounter God.
 
So today we sing, and listen,
and think about
the paradox at the heart of the Christmas story
as we worship the baby
who is born our cosmic king.
 
 
*****

 

A Reflection
 
There’s a paradox
at the heart of the Christmas story –
a conundrum that’s stated quite simply:
How can a human being be God?
How can the baby
born to Mary
also be the one who commands
our loyalty and love?
And what does it mean
for us to say
that in Jesus, God is born
and lives among us?
 
Christmas stories and readings and carols
remind us that our ultimate values –
the people and things we love and treasure –
can’t be measured by market prices
or summed up with a number.
Ultimate value and power
isn’t defined and controlled
by political figures
or by the media
or by the people who own them.
Wealth comes down to numbers,
and beyond a certain point,
for most of us,
the numbers stop making sense.
But for almost all of us
there is someone –
there are people –
we’d give everything to care for;
everything to protect and provide for.
Christmas reminds us
that the people we love,
and the people who love us,
are much, much more important to us
than real estate, or a bank balance,
or status and position,
or the influence we might wield
in politics or business.
The people we love
don’t always make our lives easy –
but even the way they can cause us pain
reveals how much they matter.
It’s the people we love,
and who love us,
who help us see our deepest truth;
they draw from us
our most costly sacrifice,
and they have the capacity
to call out and encourage in us
the best that we can be.
 
So if, in our own lives,
we want to hear a word from God;
and if, with our own eyes,
we want to see the face of God –
the best place to begin
our search for truth,
and meaning, and value –
the best place to begin our search for God –
will be with those who’ll gather around
our Christmas tables,
or sing carols with us,
or send us Christmas letters and cards
or have the patience and forgiving grace
to listen to or read
whatever rambling nonsense
we might have to say.
 
The Christmas paradox
is full of surprises.
It turns things upside-down and inside out.
It says that God was born,
and that’s a strange thing all by itself –
but then it says:
if we want to find
the only King worth obeying;
and if we want to know and worship
the mind and heart and power behind creation,
don’t look in temples or palaces–
or in formulas and theories –
look for God in babies,
and mums and dads,
and brothers and sisters,
and in your neighbours next door
and around the world –
because God’s revelation
is most clear, and most true,
and most powerful and real
when the Word becomes flesh
and lives among and within us.