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Sermon for 17 December


Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-end, John 1:6-8, 19-28

Human beings are really good at keeping themselves safe. 

It’s why we’re all here. Because our ancestors learnt how to shape sticks using a sharp edged stone so that they could keep themselves safe from the wolves and bears.

And because they figured out how to use fire to keep warm in the cold winter, and how to put sticks and leaves and mud together to build a shelter to keep the rain and wind out.

We’re really good at keeping ourselves safe from all the dangers and threats of the world out there. 

And we’re better at it now then ever before. We’ve invented pavements, seat belts, cats eyes that run down the middle of the road and the yellow line painted on the platform train stations; fire exits, sports head protection, crumple zones, swimming pool life guards, risk assessments, ear protectors, steel capped boots and a thousand other every day objects that keep us safe.

We’re very good at keeping ourselves safe.

But we don’t just keep ourselves safe with stuff, because we don’t just feel physically threatened. We can be scared of ideas too. 

So we keep ourselves safe at a deeper level too.

Sometimes people or organisations start up something really radical - someone has an idea that challenges the way things are done, and they follow that idea and set something up, and it challenges expectations and sometimes offends people. 

But over time the radical edge of the idea or movement or organisation gets blunted, and we end up with something safe and sensible. Something that isn’t so threatening or challenging.

Here’s an example. In the 19th century a group of monks realised that the children in the city they lived in weren’t getting an education because there were no schools for the poor kids. And as a result these kids, who were born into poverty, would most likely live and die in poverty. So they decided that they would set up a school for the poorest children.

It was a radical idea. After all poor kids were poor because they deserved to be poor, weren’t they? Education was for those who were going to lead things and shouldn’t be wasted on the lower classes, who might get ideas above their station. 

But the monks were very determined and they started the school. And they decided that they would make it the very best school - they would give those poor kids the best education that existed. 

And they were very good at what they did, those monks, and they did it. And their school was very successful.

And over time, as standards rose and as the school became well known, they were given money by people who believed in their vision, and they built new buildings, and because they wanted to give the kids the best, the buildings they built were big and beautiful. And because the school was doing so well other children, not from the local slums, wanted to come, and they joined the school, and sometimes they weren’t quite so poor, in fact sometimes they were quite wealthy, but they loved the education and these were kids who were going to go on and do important things, weren’t they? 

And slowly, without anyone really noticing, over time, the school which had been set up for poor children, became a rich school for rich children. And that radical idea of an education that would offer the poorest kids a way out of the slums, became a well established and wealthy independent school which nobody from the slums could possibly afford to join.

The radical idea had been made safe.

There’s a deep instinct in us to keep things safe. To tame a radical idea or to soften it so it becomes harmless.

Have we done that with Christmas?

Has our world taken the most radical story ever told, and made it safe?

After all, this is a story about a child who was so dangerous that the local King - King Herod - sent his army out to find and kill the baby, and to be sure they did their work properly, the soldiers were told to kill every recently born child.

This is a story about God choosing an unmarried mother to bear his greatest gift to the world.

This is a story that, if we let it, might just undermine all our ideas of what matters most, of who’s in charge and of what God is really like. 

And we’ve turned it into a story about a red cheeked man giving out presents, about eating too much food and spending money that we haven’t got on gifts that won't be used. 

We’ve made Christmas safe.

I want to show you a video. It’s made by an organisation called Advent Conspiracy. 

It reminds us how to set the Christmas story free to be radical again.

Worship fully, spend less, give more, love all.

That’s their recipe for setting the Christmas story free to change the world again

Here’s what they mean - and something you can do for each of those four headings.

Worship fully.

The bible says over and over again - be very careful about what you worship. Make sure you worship only God, and not the other little lords that will tempt you to follow them. Sometimes in the bible those little lords have names - like Baal or Marduk -  but more often they are much more subtle. The little lords of money, power, prestige or status.  And, says the bible, the trouble is, these little lords want all of you. The theologian Tom Wright wrote this - "When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship”

At Christmas we are pointed back to the one one worthy of worship. The only one who we are to give our lives to - the baby in the manger who will grow up to be the man who says ‘Come and follow me’. 

And at Christmas the little lords of money and advertising and stuff are shouting at us very loudly indeed. ‘Buy me! I’ll make you happy!’, ‘Give this one and he’ll love you!’, ‘Stick this up and your life will be perfect!’. Want to keep Christmas radical? Worship fully by noticing who is worthy of your life. 

Here are three simple ways to refocus your worship in the week leading up to Advent.

  1. Sing like crazy here in church - give your heart and your breath to the Lord as we sing together
  2. You’re probably going to sing some carols over the next few days. Notice the words when you sing them, and mean them. (except Away in a manger, that one you can sing with your fingers crossed, and without meaning at all.) But O Come all ye faithful or O Little town of Bethlehem or Silent Night - these are all songs to help you worship the Lord. So sing them with your whole heart
  3. Set aside some time between now and Christmas to pray and to worship. And when you do, don’t just pray for things, pray through worship - that means thanking God for who he is, it means acknowledging who he is in your life, it means saying what is deepest on your heart. Make sure you set some time aside for God before Christmas.

Spend Less

If we’re about to spend £34 billion, we should probably do it wisely. That’s a lot of money, which could do a lot of good.

Jesus didn’t ask us to spend £34 billion on his birthday, but if we spent just a fraction of that money on a birthday party consistent with his character, Christmas could still change everything

One thing you could do to help with this is to look at the Advent Conspiracy website where they have a very helpful list of things that can help you spend a little less.

And if you do spend less, it means you can ….

Give more

That might mean giving more away - more of the money that you don’t spend on presents. But it might also mean giving a different kind of presence. The kind that means spending time with someone, or sharing something you’re good at, or offering some help to someone who needs it.

Or it might mean actually being present a bit more. Listening wholeheartedly to the person who needs to talk. Leaving work a bit early to see your family. Or, perhaps, for some of us, leaving our phones alone and focussing on the world around us or the person in front of us. 

So here’s the practical suggestion for this one. Why not set yourself some time over the next couple of weeks when you’re going to go on a phone fast. Turn it off, put it away (perhaps give it to someone else to hide if it’s going to be really difficult for you), leave it alone and give people the present of your presence.

Love all

And the last one. The point of the Christmas story is that God is involved. That he has committed it all, thrown in everything he’s got, to redeem and restore this beautiful/broken, magnificent/messy world that he loves so much. He hasn’t divided it up into the holy and the unholy, he hasn’t decided to look out for some people and desert the rest. He has given everything he’s got to love us all. 

And as we worship, as we follow him, as we kneel at the manger, that’s the call to us - the same radical, life shifting, world changing call that was heard by the Shepherds and the Kings - to love God and to love each other. 

This Advent, join the conspiracy. Don’t let Christmas be safe. Set it free again to change the world.     Amen

Posted: 17/12/2017 at 17:01
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