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Tuesday December 25, 2018
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner

Love came down at Christmas

I love Christmas! It brings out the little child in me. I remember when my wife and I first adopted our own children and we had our first couple of Christmases with them; there was something quite magical about it – they were not babies, so it was, shall we say, quite ‘full-on’ from the start! I particularly remember our second Christmas when we went up to Yorkshire and put up the tree on Christmas eve and surrounded it with gifts. We used talcum powder and a pair of slippers to make white footprints from the fireplace to the tree. I will never forget the faces of the children as they came downstairs and into that room. Years later, when they were all grown up, I was very touched that my eldest would sneak downstairs to ensure that the white footprints were there in the morning. I guess many of you must have family traditions dating back to your own childhoods. In this very international congregation you will have cultural traditions that you bring to your celebration of Christmas. Christmas is a time for memories – joyful as well as sad – as the child within each of us is stirred.

Psychologists often tell us that we should learn to ‘love the child within’. But what if your childhood was not so happy and joyful; what if Christmas is not as happy a time as many of us remember; what if the child within is conflicted and there are painful memories?

Homelessness in New York has now reached the same level as it was during the Great Depression of the 1930’s and, shockingly, this Christmas, over 23,000 children will sleep in New York municipal shelters. What kind of memory will they take with them into adult life?

When I was a boy I was bullied at school; not violence, thank goodness, but name-calling and teasing and threats if I did not complete someone’s homework for them. I grew up in a pretty rough Northern British school where boys were good at soccer and rugby league but I was hopeless at those sports (mainly because it wasn’t until I went to University that someone thought to test my eyes and discover that I was very short sighted and simply couldn’t see!) instead, I preferred music and art, English and drama. The name calling was the thing that I remember most and the sting of put-downs compounded by the laughter of my peers. I doubted myself and as a teenager had periods of deep melancholy.

My dad and teachers would recite a little rhyme:
“Sticks and stones may break my bones
but names will never hurt me.”

But they never seemed to be subject to name-calling, and words can sting and hurt.

Years later I recognized that such things were simply part of growing up and I was not the only one to experience them; I learned to recognize that bullying was a result of someone else’s problem and not mine. I learned to begin to love the child in me that had, sometimes, had been afraid to peer out.

During his ministry on earth, Jesus was taunted and subject to name-calling. He was called a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of prostitutes and those collecting taxes for the Roman Empire – like a Nazi sympathizer of the 20th century. He was accused of being unclean, dirty, and even that his power to heal came from the devil himself. At his trial and while dying on the cross he was bullied and mocked and insults were hurled at him.

What a contrast with the names that surrounded his birth! When the Angel Gabriel met Mary, she was told that he would be called ‘Son of the Most-High.’ Joseph is told that he is to be called ‘Jesus’ because he would ‘save his people from their sins’. The angel also named him ‘Emmanuel’ which means, God-is-with-us.’ When Mary visited Elizabeth, the babe leaped in her womb and she called him ‘Blessed’. The Shepherds were told that he is the ‘Savior’ and the ‘Messiah’ which means anointed-one. The wise men call him ‘King’ and give him gifts filled with mysterious meaning. When Jesus was presented in the Temple as a baby, Simeon called him a ‘light’ of revelation and glory, and at his baptism by John in the Jordan, a voice proclaimed from heaven that he was ‘Beloved’.

In our great Gospel reading which we just heard, John unfolds the great mystery of the incarnation and describes Jesus as the Word. Not a word that hurts or stings but the Word that brings healing; not a word to be frightened of but the Word that shines in the darkness of our world, and even in the darkness of our own hearts and lives; not a word that puts us down but the Word that allows us to peer through that darkness and see the glory of God, full of grace and truth. The entrance of Jesus into the world changed everything and allows us to be beloved; to create the beloved community that Jesus so long desires for all his children.

In the first letter of John we read: “Beloved … God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. … No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:7-12).

Isn’t that wonderful? ‘Beloved…if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.’ There is a lovely old Christmas Carol that begins, ‘Love came down at Christmas.’

Our God came into our world and was given the name Jesus because he would save us from our sins; save us from our melancholy; save us from our own agendas. But not only from our sins, for he experienced all that it was to be human and all that it was to be misunderstood, abused, and hurt. The child within each one us has been redeemed because of the child born in the manger, because God wants to dwell in us as love.

‘if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.’

My friends, take that home today.

Preaching on Christmas Eve in 1967, Martin Luther King reminded his hearers of the difference this kind of love can make to our world:

“This is what Jesus meant when he said, "Love your enemies." And I'm happy that he didn't say, "Like your enemies," because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like. Liking is an affectionate emotion, and I can't like anybody who would bomb my home. I can't like anybody who would exploit me. I can't likeanybody who would trample over me with injustices. I can't like them. I can't like anybody who threatens to kill me day in and day out. But Jesus reminds us that love is greater than liking. Love is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men.”

My friends, that is the message of Christmas – that God has flooded the world with his love and we must be part of that love in order to find meaning in our lives, even when we doubt ourselves, even when we are afraid at looking at the child within. Or, as dear parishioner, Libby Clark who died just over a year ago used to say:

“The safest place in the world is in the middle of God’s love.”