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


Two Christmas Sermons
January 5, 2015, 5:24 pm
Filed under: Sermons

I. Sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Christmas Day 2014

I expect some of you know the poem by John Betjeman called, simply, “Christmas.” It’s the one that starts, “the bells of waiting Advent ring,” and the first five verses are about our ordinary preparations for Christmas, buying presents, Christmas lights in the shopping centres, sing-songs in the pubs and so on. Some of it a bit dated now, but the general picture very recognisable over the last few weeks, as we struggle to find just the right present to give to loved ones, something we hope they will really appreciate.

And then, in the sixth verse, the poet asks, “And is it true? And is it true, this most tremendous tale of all… a Baby in an ox’s stall, the Maker of the stars and sea become a little child for me?” Because if it is, then the point of Christmas is not the little gifts we give to one another, however lovingly bought and wrapped (or perhaps however thoughtlessly), but rather the one great Gift that God, the Almighty Creator, has given to us, his so regularly unresponsive children, yet so dearly loved by him.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” Imagine someone spending far more than they could afford to buy a present for someone they love, spending hours wrapping it up and placing it under the Christmas tree. Imagine then, on Christmas morning, the beloved tearing off the paper, looking at the gift with contempt, and tossing it aside with a sarcastic remark- “What use is that to me?” Would that not be dreadful? But that is how so much of the human race treats the Gift of God’s own self, contained within a little child, and later hanging on the Cross.

The lesson of the Christmas gospels is that it is those who have little or nothing who are most able to recognise the Gift of God; the shepherds in the fields, the strangers from far away, above all the village girl who said, “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord,” and who rejoiced because God had looked on her littleness with favour.

The God who was born at Bethlehem to be our Saviour has not ended his giving. Not content with hiding himself under the form of a baby in a manger, he hides himself daily under the forms of Bread and Wine, to feed us with his own life-energy. The old theologians had the right word for the miracle: they said that in the Sacrament, the very substance of Christ is present, meaning by the word “substance” the whole inner reality, the truth and the life.

“And is it true?” the poet asks- for if it is, then none of the trimmings and fripperies we make so much of, “Can with this single Truth compare- That God was man in Palestine And lives today in Bread and Wine.”

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” “She brought forth her first-born Son, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Dear friends, let it never be said of us that we have no room for Jesus in our hearts. “O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.”

II. Sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton, Epiphany 2015

On Christmas Day, I said that the most important gift is not the presents that we give to one another, but God’s gift of himself in the birth of Jesus. Today, we are thinking of the Wise Men and their gifts, and this reminds us that we can and should offer a gift to Jesus: the gift of ourselves.

“What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a wise man, I would do my part- yet what I can I give him, give my heart.”

We give our hearts- our selves- to God first and foremost by trusting him. This is what the Bible means by faith: trusting God, trusting Jesus, in what he says, what he promises, and what he asks us to do for him. When the angel told Mary that she was to be the mother of the Messiah, Mary trusted God’s word, trusted that God would take care of her through whatever was going to happen. That is why her cousin Elizabeth said, “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

When the wise men saw the star, they trusted that it meant something important, that it was not just an interesting fact, but summoned them to action. Like Abraham (and from the same region) they set out in faith- to find the new King, as Abraham had looked for a new home.

We are now going to re-enact the coming of the Kings, by bringing each one in turn to be placed at the crib. When the King of gold comes, remember that Jesus is our King, the one we should follow, the one we should trust and love. When the King of frankincense comes, remember that Jesus is God himself come among us, the one, the only one, we should worship with all our heart and mind and strength. When the King of myrrh comes, remember that it was through pain and death, through the Cross, that Jesus opened up the way for us to eternal life.

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