Crows Nest Uniting Church
Christmas Day • 25 Dec 2014


John 1:1-14


Rev. Chris Udy




Last weekend Paul Byrnes,
the movie critic
who writes for the Sydney Morning Herald
published his guide to Christmas movies.
He said “there are two types
of Christmas movies –
naughty and nice. …
Nice is sentimental and a bit icky”
and often features Bing Crosby
or an oversized elf.
But “the naughty kind
concentrates on how bad the world is,
how cruel and greedy and unkind;
it then turns into the nice kind at the end,
when Christmas reforms everyone,
reminding us of what's important.
Christ saves us, in other words,
by his birth (not his death).” That’s a fascinating insight.
‘Christ saves us by his birth
not through his death.’
 
We’ve had enough of death
over the last few weeks –
and there far too many people
who think that killing and dying
is the way to solve
their problems with the world.
The real test of character and dedication
isn’t in how we die –
it’s in the way we live.
It’s much, much harder
to try and understand
the people we’re estranged from
than it is to make
the strangeness between us
deadly and permanent.
It’s much more brave,
much more courageous,
to put our ideas and opinions at risk
than to put our bodies in harm’s way.
And, even for Jesus,
it really isn’t his death that saves –
it’s his love; his grace; his forgiveness –
it’s his life.
If the death of Jesus was the end of his story
there wouldn’t be much point in having Christmas.
But it’s not. Because Jesus returned to life.
Jesus always returns to life.
 
“Christ saves us by his birth”,
and the Christmas stories
are opening scenes
of a salvation story that has its roots
in a thousand years of salvation history
before Jesus was born –
a thousand years
of the slowly dawning understanding
that God is much less interested
in battles and blood and sacrifice
than in peace with justice
and love in forgiveness.
God’s people took a long, long time to catch on,
but there were constant hints
all through that thousand-year history
that began with Abraham being told
that he and God were now an item,
and that nothing Abraham
or his children would do –
and they did some pretty silly things –
nothing they could do
would break God’s commitment.
And the sign of God’s commitment
wasn’t blood and punishment and damnation –
as some might have us believe – it’s life.
The sign of God’s commitment
was Abraham’s baby – Isaac;
and Isaac’s babies – Esau, and Jacob,
whose name was changed to Israel,
and who had 12 baby boys –
and so God’s promise and commitment grew,
through life, and love, and forgiveness.
Over and over again
a baby’s birth becomes the sign
that God has not given up on people –
that God is still determined,
despite the worst that we can do
to ourselves and each other –
God is still determined to stay with us.
 
One of the passages we read every Christmas –
a passage from Isaiah
that Matthew quotes to tell his Christmas story –
comes from a time
when Jerusalem was under siege
and Isaiah the prophet was sent
to reassure and encourage the king – King Ahaz –
that the death he was afraid of
was not God’s purpose for Israel.
Ahaz was so frightened
by the terror he was facing
that he refused even to ask for a sign of hope.
Finally the prophet
ran out of patience with the king’s negativity,
so Isaiah said:
“Hear, O house of David!
Is it too little for you to weary mortals,
that you weary my God also?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.
Look, the young woman is with child
and shall bear a son,
and shall name him Immanuel.
He shall eat curds and honey
by the time he knows
how to refuse the evil
and choose the good.” (Isaiah 7:13-15)
The young woman Isaiah meant
was probably the wife of King Ahaz –
his young bride –
so the baby to be born -
the one Isaiah called ‘Immanuel’
or ‘God is with us’ –
was the son of Ahaz – Hezekiah.
Isaiah’s promise
was that before the boy was old enough
to know right from wrong –
while he was still very young –
he would be eating curds and honey;
not the sort of thing you’d find to eat
in a city under siege,
but the food of a land at peace.
The sign of God’s salvation
was a birth –
the sign of God’s continued presence
was a baby –
and every baby, some people say,
is a sign that God believes
the world should continue.
 
Nearly 800 years
after that baby was born
Matthew quoted Isaiah’s words
to describe the birth of Jesus.
By then Isaiah’s Hebrew words
had been translated into Greek,
and that translation raises a few problems –
but we might think about them another day.
The basic pattern remains the same.
In this baby, Luke and Matthew say,
God gives all people –
all the earth - a sign of hope.
In this birth, God is born;
God is with us;
and in this baby, God takes on
both the wonder and the risk
of being human.
 
Jesus saves us by this birth.
Christmas invites us
to refocus our attention
away from death and dying into life.
Tragically, most of the time,
it’s death that galvanises us into action –
but Christmas invites us
to be energised and illuminated by birth.
Every baby born is a sign
of the same hope we see in Jesus.
Every baby is born with God’s potential.
It’s sad that almost immediately
we start to weigh them down
with prejudice and limitation.
We bind them up
with a gender, and a race,
and a class, and a religion –
but that’s not really who they are.
When we’re born, we’re simply human;
every human life begins in the same way,
and to the eyes of God
all new-born babies look the same.
They share the wonder, and the value,
and the hope and love and joy
God saw in Jesus.
 
Today it isn’t Jerusalem
that’s under siege – it’s Bethlehem.
There’s an enormous wall
around the town where Jesus was born,
and the people who live there say
that if Mary and Joseph came today
they probably wouldn’t make it
through the checkpoint.
The shepherds wouldn’t get in either –
the wall stops everyone from working
out in the fields and the olive groves –
and the wise men, if they came from the east,
would need all sorts of papers and permissions,
and all their luggage would be searched
again and again and again.
Bethlehem today is a tragic symbol
of our divisions and separations
and the culture of death
that everyone knows
can never build a future –
but Christmas asks us
to look beyond the wall
and focus on the babies,
still being born, like Jesus,
into places of dubious shelter,
and under political leaders who mean them harm,
but bringing joy, and hope,
and love, and wonder
to everyone who sees with the eyes of God.
 
Our salvation will never be won
with fear and fortifications and division.
The hope of the world
is born and grows
when we know every child we see
is a daughter or son of God,
and teach them that all God’s other children
are, along with Jesus,
their brothers and their sisters.
“Christ saves us by his birth”,
and he invites us into life.
May God bless all those with whom
you’ll share your Christmas celebration –
and may you know God’s love and delight
for you and for all God’s children.