Monday 2 January 2012

Sermon for New Year's Day 2012

It’s New Years Day and I am sure many if not all of us have made some resolutions about the year ahead. We are determined to improve some area of our lives.
Some of us make resolutions like this one I came across recently: A man said to a friend: "I love getting up at 6am, going for a 5K run, and having a nice long shower before breakfast."
His friend asked, "How long have you been doing this?"
The man said: "I start tomorrow."

We are experts at putting things off – we human beings are masters of avoidance techniques – and Christians are no exception. Remember St Augustine one of the Fathers of the Church whose most quoted and remembered line was this: ‘Give me chastity Lord, but not yet!’

Nothing changes – How many embittered people, only on their deathbeds seek to make peace with their lifelong enemies and to be reconciled with family members with whom they have fallen out for reasons nobody can remember and yet nobody has the courage to question until it comes to the crunch – a time of crisis and panic. And in the intervening years these unresolved issues just eat away at people from the inside out.
Why do we put off those things that will bring us peace and comfort and even joy! Why do we torture ourselves so much.

There is a misconception about Christianity that it is all about delayed gratification – that it is all about the after-life and that perhaps it doesn’t really matter what happens in this life (this vale of tears) because in Eternity with God all will be well.
That is nothing short of Heresy! Listen to the words from today’s Epistle: ‘God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

God entered into our humanity precisely because our humanity matters to God. Jesus is True God and True Man – we are inclined to neglect the 2nd part of that description but it is the totality of Jesus that sets us free and gives us life in abundance.

Look at today’s Gospel – the visit of the Shepherds and their response to give glory to God because of what had happened on Earth already not at some distant point in the future in the next life but HERE, NOW, in the muck and the mud and the simplicity and ordinariness of a stable or a shed where the Saviour was born.

And the closing verse of the Gospel reading “He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb” a timely reminder of his divine nature which had entered the world in the most humble yet extraordinary way. God’s sense of humour knows no bounds! Here we have all these expectations of a great and mighty military ruler and God sends a baby!

One of the things about babies is they demand our immediate attention or they scream a lot and make an awful mess of their nappies – there is nothing that creates a sense of urgency in any home than the arrival of a baby. You cannot put off dealing with a baby – everything else is secondary to it.

Was that what God was thinking when he sent his son Jesus into the World? – was that what he was telling us? – This is Jesus and you’d better pay attention or things will get very messy and unpleasant. Like any baby he can be the greatest source of joy in your lives or you can chose to neglect him, to reject him and WE DID! And what did God do? – Still determined not to give up on us – still determined to convey to us the urgency of this message he goes to the Cross! It took that to get our attention!

It seems strange to be talking about the Cross so close to Christmas but it is the fulfillment of what was begun in Bethlehem. We have the privilege of knowing how the story develops –In our Churches every year we read about it, dramatise it, pray about it, sing about it and give thanks for it but we fail to grasp the urgency of it.
To be a Christian is about so much more than this hour on Sunday - the other 167 hours of our week matter as well and so does what we do with them.

No more than we should delay on those resolutions about improving our health and wellbeing in the year ahead neither should we delay on improving our lives of faith. There is an urgency about following Jesus and there will be as long as there is pain and suffering on this beautiful planet that we live on. As long as babies die of starvation in Africa, as long as young children and women are sold into sex slavery, as long as people die in unnecessary wars, as long as disease and illness afflicts humanity and the whole of Creation there is an urgency about being a follower of Jesus. Tomorrow is not soon enough – Today is the day that the Lord has made – we should rejoice and be glad in it and be witnesses to it. Amen.

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