Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Christmas Midnight
December 27, 2012, 12:20 pm
Filed under: Sermons

A sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, 2012

Why are we all here, in the middle of this dark winter’s night? What has kept us up, rather than being tucked up in our warm beds? Of course, we are celebrating the birth, more than two thousand years ago, of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ, Jesus the Messiah. We may have the wrong date, we may not be sure of the precise year, but the birth of Jesus is so important to us that we want to commemorate it on some date, even if it is not the right one. It is important, because we Christians believe that, in Jesus of Nazareth, God himself has come among us. But what does that mean? What exactly do we mean by “God”?

There are plenty of people today who think we are unbelievably simple-minded to believe in God at all. And indeed, one would have to be simple-minded to believe in the sort of God they hold up to ridicule. They seem to have in mind someone like Zeus, or Wotan, or any other of the old pagan gods. How can we believe such a figure created the universe? And how might a Jewish carpenter be his son? Well, it is up to us Christians to defend our faith, and to show that the modern atheists are attacking a mere caricature of their own invention, not the God of Abraham, worshipped by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

The Wise Men looked up and saw a star. When the Psalmist looked up, he said, “I will consider the heavens, even the works of thy fingers; the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained. What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” On seeing the majesty of the night sky, he was overwhelmed by a sense of his own littleness. The great German philosopher Kant said that two things filled him with awe: the starry sky above, and the moral law within. The moral universe too leads us to God, and to a sense of our own inadequacy.

God is that, whatever it is, that lies behind the mysterious and awesome universe we live in. God is that, whatever it is, that gives foundation to our moral perceptions of right and wrong. God is the ultimate explanation that we seek, as human beings, to make sense of our lives; the satisfaction that we seek, but never seem to find, in the things of earth. The fundamental act of faith that any of us make is that there is a purpose to the world and to life, that there is an answer to the question of life, the world and everything.

The message of Christmas, as we Christians understand it, is that this unattainable Answer, this unreachable Goal, has made himself known to us in a form that is both accessible and lovable. We can never reach up to God, but God can reach down to us. He has transposed his Infinite Nature into our terms: in fact, he has scaled down infinity into infancy. We may be little, but to God we are not insignificant. We matter to him, we are important to him. That is why he accommodates himself to our littleness.

This is the essence of the Christian Gospel, that God has come among us: God-with-us, Emmanuel, born like us, living our life, dying our death. This did not happen in some mythical time and place. It took place when Augustus was Emperor, and Quirinius was governor of Syria. It took place in Bethlehem, a few miles outside Jerusalem. And to prove that he was truly God with us, in our human weakness and inadequacy, he was born in poverty and welcomed (after Mary and Joseph) only by a few poor shepherds.

Let us never, as Christians, apologise for our belief. This is the Hope of the World, the Remedy for our human sickness and sorrow, the Saviour. The human world exists in stark contrast to the harmony of the heavens- either the starry sky or the angel choirs. It exists in stark contrast with the moral law that commands both justice and compassion. As the Christmas hymn reminds us, the world has suffered long with the woes of sin and strife, while mankind, at war with itself, does not hear the message of love. God, who in himself is the ultimate Mystery, does not give us merely commands, or blue-prints for a perfect society. He gives us himself, in the form of a vulnerable child. Yet it is that child, destined one day to be that crucified man, who is today and every day the Risen Lord, who can save the world. Come, let us adore him, and make his Gospel known. Let us ourselves be angels- meaning “messengers”- who bring good news of great joy, for all people.

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