Keeping Christmas all the year   

SERMON

Christmas Day 2021

Isaiah 62.6-12

Psalm 97

Titus 3.4-8a

Luke 2.8-20

Keeping Christmas all the year                                               ©Suzanne Grimmett

You could be spending your Christmas morning at home. Or if you are at home and joining us online, you could no doubt be busying yourselves preparing Christmas lunch or wrapping a few final presents.

But you are here with us.

Why? It is not as if you don’t know the story. We tell it every year, after all.

Perhaps it is part of keeping Christmas well….it is after all the promise Scrooge comes up with at the end of the fearful visitations of spirits that he will ‘honour Christmas in his heart, and try to keep it all the year.’

What would that mean, to ‘keep Christmas’ this year? There is in this story we tell, depths of meaning that reveal to us a compelling truth that keeps us returning because we know that this story changes everything. My sense in this year is that we are ready to have our imaginations captured by a story that opens us to new possibilities of grace in our lives. My sense is that many of us are exhausted, most are anxious and we are conscious that the spread of the virus in our communities has laid a cloud over all of the festivities.

Yet we are here. On this new Christmas morning we see again the light that has broken upon us and hear again the good news of great joy that is for all people.  God has reached out to humankind to do what humankind could not do for itself. This is no other-worldly transcendent spiritual experience but an earthy, grounded glorifying of all that it means to be human. God through Jesus has taken on the shape of suffering humanity; enfleshed in a body that feels joy and sorrow, pain and exhilaration, succumbing to viruses and vulnerable to violence.

What I think both draws us and at times repels us about the Christmas story is its unapologetic fleshiness. As Diana Butler Bass says;

Eventually the mystery of God’s glory runs smack into muck of human bodies; the divine Word became flesh from the same dust and spittle that made us all. Mary’s body brought forth the tiny body of God; her water breaking and the bloody birth made possible the water and blood of the cross some thirty years later.[1]

Christmas tells us that there is no edge to God. Because of Christmas there is nowhere we can say God is not- not even in the most inhumane person. Similarly, there are no unsacred places: only sacred places and desecrated places. There is a oneness to all because the earth and the cosmos is part of the body of God even as we can say the body of God was found wailing in an animal’s food trough.

This reveals something wonderful about the nature of God. If we are to ‘keep Christmas all the year’ the first thing we need to do is recognise what truth it reveals about God and what untruths we have believed that we really must discard. Christmas shows us that God is unconditionally for us, and far from being a finger wagging, head shaking or else just plain bored and distant parental deity, this God revealed in the incarnation is one who will do anything to draw us into relationship and the joy of shared life in the Divine.

Whether from our childhood impressions, or our own sense of guilt or shame, we still carry vestiges of that distant, disapproving God. A God, whom we think, somehow has to be persuaded to be on our side. Rowan Williams says to this, ‘that you might as well persuade a waterfall to be wet’. The outpouring of love that flows unconditionally towards us in every moment finds its most potent expression in the birthing of the Christ child. God, in God’s longing, has found a way to be near us, redeeming humanity from the inside out.

To keep Christmas well, therefore, is to accept that you are accepted and beloved. More than that, it is to look around at all these who travel the journey of your life alongside you and recognise with wonder that they, too, are lit from within by the presence of God. Honouring Christmas all the year is to hold that image of one another as God-bearers, valuing everyone not according to their fitness or productivity…. not deriding anyone for their ineffectualness or lack of efficiency….not judging anyone as worthless just because we find their ways different to our own. What we have received at Christmas is the God who would become utterly vulnerable to our human condition for the sake of all. While we might consider some unworthy, God risked everything for them and for the possibility of offering them fullness of life. There is no human face not revealing the glory of God if only we have eyes to see.

Christmas can give us eyes to see. We should be surprised every year that the separation we feel between our fleshiness and the holy symbols of a transcendent God are bridged in this baby who is both sign and sacrament. The child who lays in a feeding trough for animals becomes our food and drink. The blood and water poured out at his birth are poured out again for our redemption. The sign of this child ‘wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger’ reveals a God who surprises us by going to lengths for our sake that we would never ask or expect.

The 19th century poet, Christina Rossetti captures the heart of Christmastide;

Love came down at Christmas,
     Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas,
     Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
     Love Incarnate, Love Divine;
Worship we our Jesus:
     But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
     Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
     Love for plea and gift and sign.

Love shall be the token of all those who keep Christmas well. Christmas reveals that God is love and in this truth there is hope for whatever we may face in the future. So let us honour this day all the year by allowing the love of Christ to be poured upon us and to flow out from our lives as plea and gift and sign.  +Amen


[1] Diana Butler Bass, Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Saviour, Lord, Way and Presence, (Harper One, 2021: p236)

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