A Christmas message preached by Revd David Holloway of Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle upon Tyne, on 12 December 2010.
The talk is available to read below or listen to as an MP3.
It is natural to celebrate anniversaries.
Today is the first birthday of our first grandchild. Thursday was the 50th birthday of Coronation Street. A few days earlier Ronnie Corbett, the comedian, was celebrating his 80th. He would have appreciated one actual newspaper report of a father testing his son on world cities:
When the boy was stuck on the country for Istanbul, the father said, “think of Christmas dinner”. The boy paused, thought and replied, “Greece”. So much for his mother’s cooking!
Then, at this church, on Sunday 16 January we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of Jesmond Parish Church.
But this evening we are celebrating the greatest anniversary of all. This is the anniversary of when God Almighty entered his world around 2010 years ago, as a baby, in the person of Jesus Christ. So Christina Rossetti writes as we sang:
“In the bleak midwinter a stable-place sufficed the Lord God Almighty – Jesus Christ.”
The true meaning of this anniversary is in those angelic words from our last reading:
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord”.
I wonder who needs that message of “good news of great joy” this evening?
Since last Christmas perhaps you have lost your job or a person you love. Or you have problems in your family or with your health. Last Christmas the Tyneside policeman, David Rathband, could see perfectly well. This Christmas he is totally blind. In July he was shot in the head at point blank range by the gunman Raoul Moat. And there are families and friends this Christmas, over in Cumbria, mourning the twelve people killed by Derrick Bird in June, another gunman. The message of the Angel to all such people is “do not be afraid.” For there is good news.
A saviour has been born
There is a Christmas card that has on it these words:
“If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent an educator. If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer. But our greatest need was for forgiveness, so God sent a Saviour.”
The basic problem with the world is sin – a much misunderstood word.
A 77 year old man slipped on the ice recently in Salisbury. So many passers by did nothing as he lay there. It was a long time before someone came to his aid. A reporter, therefore, went to test how long it takes to get help in Manchester. There, he himself was left lying in the street for 13 minutes in a minus 2 degrees centigrade temperature and ignored by fifteen people. Several shoppers stared at him. One crossed the road to avoid him. Finally an office worker bent down and asked: “are you all right? I thought you were dead.”
Sin is not just a feature of those like Raoul Moat or Derrick Bird. It relates to us all. The evil that we do, and the good we do not do, are the fruit of that original sin, or moral disease, we heard about in our second reading. Sin is wanting to be in control. It is not surrendering to God and then, as his children, being dependent on him. It is not putting God first, others second and ourselves last. It is reversing that order and then being under God’s judgment. So we need his forgiveness.
The message of Christmas is that you can confidently pray to be forgiven and then live with hope both for this life and for all eternity. As we have sung – Jesus “with his blood mankind hath bought.” On the Cross he paid the price for our sin.
Salvation, however, means more than forgiveness. Being right with God is a beginning that affects the whole of life. It leads to restored relationships, strengthened marriages, ethical businesses and real care in the community. And those great social ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity can only be guaranteed when there is faith in God: liberty, when all are seen created free by God; equality, when all are seen created in God’s image; and fraternity, (or brotherhood,) when all are brothers under God our Father.
The Saviour born is Christ
Secondly, Christmas is good news because the Saviour born is Christ (Christ means the “anointed one” – the king, and for Jesus, the King of kings).
The Bible teaches that David, the great king “after God’s own heart”, had a humble beginning. He was a shepherd before being king.
And Christ – “great David’s greater son” – was born in a manger, not a palace.
The Bible says, “God gives grace to the humble”. In God’s providence the insignificant becomes significant.
In God’s created order each person begins as a seemingly insignificant twofold cell, but an individual with DNA for adult life.
It is the same with human creation. In 1942 there was a song that took only 18 minutes to record and then was nearly cut out of the film Holiday Inn. It was “White Christmas”. Sung by Bing Crosby and written by Irving Berlin, the recording has sold over 100 million copies.
So do you think you are too insignificant for God to use? You are not! If you trust and obey Christ, God can use you to help change this needy world in the strength of his Holy Spirit.
But Christ’s kingship not only points to small beginnings. It also points to God’s plan and control of history and so of your history.
In our third reading we heard foretold God’s plan of how one day there would come a “Prince of peace”. Somehow he would be a “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, [and] Everlasting Father.” 700 years later that plan was fulfilled in the birth of Christ the Saviour.
And God has a plan for you. The Bible says:
“it is by grace you have been saved, through faith … not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2.8-10).
God has good works prepared for you to do. Thank God for every good work from private prayer to public projects. Thank God for the good work of new medical technology that may restore vision to PC David Rathband.
But what is God calling you to do? And you can pray for guidance.
However, living according to God’s plan not only requires you to acknowledge Jesus as Saviour and anointed King. Positively you are to submit to him as Lord.
Christ the Lord
For, thirdly, Christmas is good news because the Saviour is not only “Christ” (the anointed one). He is also “Christ the Lord.”
The Apostle Paul wrote these words:
“if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10.9).
“Lord” there means the divine Lord, the true and living God.
But is it believable that the baby born in Bethlehem is the true and living God come in human form? Yes, it is! Not only are there those amazing Old Testament predictions. Supremely there is the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. His tomb was empty; and he was seen and, transfigured, met by eye-witnesses. And there is proof from transformed lives.
We began with a comedian. Let me end with another comedian, Bobby Ball of Cannon and Ball. Last Christmas he was public about his faith in an extended newspaper interview.
From a humble beginning he became a millionaire TV star. Then all went wrong. Not on speaking terms with Tommy Cannon, he was alcoholic and, as he put it, into “a lot of adultery”. But aged 40 he met a theatre chaplain. Over a period of time the chaplain helped him seek forgiveness and commit his life to Jesus Christ. So last Christmas, 25 years on and with life, through illness, not always easy, he gave this advice:
“Jesus Christ is there for each and every one of us … it doesn’t matter what you’re going through, bring it to Jesus … [Then] let God plan your life.”
For, as we will be singing, “Life and light to all he brings.”
Christmas, therefore, presents us with a choice. It is simple.
Are we going to be like the inn keeper with no room for Jesus? Or are we going to be like shepherds who, rough and often irreligious men, went to find Jesus; and when they found him, told others?