Carol Service Sermon
Here’s the sermon I preached at last night’s carol service.
There comes a time every December when I reach a crisis point. I have struggled for years to put a name to this moment that usually occurs about a week before Christmas, that point when it seems as though life cannot go on. This year, however, I have finally found the words to describe this once a year life-changing event.
Last Thursday, the 18th of December 2008, at around 3.30pm in the afternoon I experienced the Cliff Richard Saturation Horizon.
Let me explain what the Cliff Richard Saturation Horizon is, though I suspect that many of you already know. It is that moment that happens every year, when you are listening to the radio and Heart FM, or whatever station you are tuned into at the time, plays “Mistletoe and Wine” for the umpteenth time, and suddenly, suddenly, it is as though every single time that track has been played, and all the other Christmas songs you’ve listened to or watched on VH1 or MTV come together in one hideous moment of “too muchness”. You have been bombarded with Slade and Wizzard and Jingle Bells and Sleigh Rides for weeks, and finally it reaches a climax, a moment where you know you have to turn the radio off, go outside for a walk and avoid any hint of tinsel and turkey for at least half an hour.
Astronomers have Black Holes as the things that suck all life and light out of existence, ordinary people have the Cliff Richard Saturation Horizon.
It seems sometimes that Christmas has been going on for weeks and weeks. Already in early November my “Bah Humbug” mood begins to descend as I walk around Tesco’s and the mince pies are already on special offer and the toys and festive pot pourri and bargain turkeys are on show. We are fooled I think into believing that this is a sign that the supermarkets are on our side, that they want to help us prepare in good time for Christmas and all the celebrations that are going on. Let me let you into a secret – they are only doing it to make more money. That is why Aldi yesterday already had price tags on the shelves ready for the hot cross buns. I kid you not.
There is a sense isn’t there that all around us at this time of year and people telling us to get excited, and doing so for a number of reasons. You must get into the right spirit – that is why the radio stations, pop, rock and classical bombard us with festive music in order to make us think nice Christmassy thoughts. This is why the shops and the TV encourage us to prepare for the bonanza of gift buying and film watching. You will get into the mood by buying presents and enjoying the latest shenanigans in the soaps, though for those of you who are Eastenders fans, I use the word “enjoy” in its loosest form.
The whole point though of the last few weeks has seemed to be this – it is what YOU do that makes YOUR Christmas a successful one. If YOU get into the mood it will be fine. If YOU buy the right presents it will be a success. If YOU watch the right TV Programmes, you will be happy, at least until you go back to work after the weekend.
Tonight though celebrates the real successful way to enjoy Christmas, and that is to realise that it is about us doing absolutely nothing and God doing absolutely everything. The birth of Jesus is the moment when God becomes human, to live amongst us and eventually to die for us. It is the bursting into our little, busy human worlds of the divine, the coming of something remarkably different than the every day. And Jesus was remarkably different – though he was a normal human baby he was also at the same time 100% God. Because he was 100% God he could live a life lived exactly how humans should live their lives – centred on God. It’s something that we try so hard to do, but fail at every day.
This is why Jesus came – because however hard we try we cannot create a perfect life, a perfect Christmas, a perfect ordinary day. Here is a baby who was born to die – a child destined to experience as a man one of the most excruciating deaths ever devised. That is why the wise men bring him the gift of Myrrh – it’s embalming fluid for dead people, the equivalent today of turning up at the bed side of a friend who has just given birth and presenting them with a coffin with the baby’s name on it. But Jesus’ death was the ultimate moment of victory, not disaster which is how often we view death, because on the cross he took all the things that we have done wrong, and all the bad things in the world that have happened to us, and all the times we try and make things good ourselves and fail miserably, just compounding our guilt and mess. All those things were placed upon Jesus and removed from us, and as they were placed on him, we saw the effect that those things have on us – literally killing who we, our dreams, our hopes, our future, our very lives.
That is why we sing the carols that we sing tonight, not because we want to just celebrate the birth of one more baby, but because we know what this baby is going to do, indeed has already done. He is the king of the universe who has come to die. He is the Lord of Everything who has come to take all the pain of life away from us, if we but recognise what he is here to do. He has been born to free us from the consequences of everything bad that we do and that has been done to us.
And the most amazing thing of all is, as opposed to all the things around us that tell us that a successful Christmas is about what you do and your effort to get into the mood, we need do no work to receive that freedom from Jesus. All we have to do is to say to Jesus “Yes – I believe you are the baby born to die. I believe you are the one who will do the work. I believe you are the one who will transform my existence from one focussed on trying to do my best into one that lets you be the goodness in my life”. And when we say that to him he literally comes into our lives and transforms them, so that we can live knowing that he has everything in his tiny baby, wrinkled, nail bored, blood stained hands.
This year, let’s take time out to think about whether we have actually done that. We have listened to the pop songs and we have sung the carols. We have heard the shops tell us what we need to buy and we have read the stories from the Bible. We have watched the Christmas specials and we have heard the meditations on the birth of Jesus. I think it’s absolutely certain that we have all already said “Yes” to the songs, the shopping and the entertainment.
Have we said yes to Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe, the God of all existence, the one who was born to die for us?