Christmas message by Revd David Holloway

A Christmas message preached by Revd David Holloway of Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle upon Tyne, on 08 December 2013.

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    Since last Christmas, we have celebrated in July the birth of a future king, baby George.

    As expected it generated some internet wit. When Tony Blair’s deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, heard that the birth was imminent, he tweeted as follows:

    “Good to hear the Duchess of Cambridge has gone into labour. Is she an affiliated member?”

    However, Christmas is about the greatest ever royal birth – the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. So the novelist Dorothy Sayers entitled her much acclaimed play-cycle about Jesus (first broadcast Christmas 1941), The Man born to be King.

    That was a dark time in World War II. But they were dark times when Jesus was born – King Herod was the Hitler of his day. Like Hitler he killed indiscriminately, even massacring young boys. The 1st century historian, Josephus, called him, “the most cruel tyrant who ever ascended the throne.” So Christmas says there is hope for dark times.

    The death of Nelson Mandela has reminded us of the hope brought to South Africa on his release from prison in 1990. However, the coming of Jesus 2000 years ago brought hope for the whole world and for all time.

    That very first Christmas the joke, or rather the irony, was the other way round – from God to us. For Jesus was not born in a plush building like baby George. No! His first hours were spent in an animal’s eating trough. Instead of then resting in a comfortable up-market home, he had to escape for his life, from Herod, to Egypt as a refugee. Most significantly his names were chosen not to reflect historical figures, like George – Alexander – Louis, as chosen by William and Kate. Rather Joseph was told the name “Jesus” was to be chosen because …

    “… he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1.21)

    And Matthew adds:

    “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet [Isaiah]: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).”

    Then Mary learnt even more. For the angel told her, as we heard:

    “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

    He was not only to be called Jesus (the Saviour) and the Son of the Most High – the second person of the divine Trinity (God with us). He was, also, to be a king, whose “kingdom will never end”. That was an amazing fulfillment of the prophecy in our Isaiah reading (from 700 years before Christ) about the birth of a child …

    [As we heard] “… the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9.6)

    Isaiah may have hoped for fulfillment in his own life time. But it had to wait for God’s time and Jesus – and in four ways.

    For, as king, Jesus was to be first, the WONDERFUL COUNSELOR

    How we all need advice. Out now is an Observer guide on how to tell Christmas cracker jokes, how to wrap presents, how to win at board games, how to put up decorations and more. And there is good medical advice available. The British Heart Foundation tells us that North East people could consume on Christmas Day only enough salt contained in 50 packets of crisps; more saturated fat than half a pack of lard; and the equivalent of 32 teaspoons of sugar. Their advice? – sensible moderation.

    But Christmas should supremely make us think about Jesus’ “wonderful counsel”. Perhaps you are in serious trouble – at home or at work? Well, Jesus, God’s human “Word”, points you to God’s word through Prophets, Apostles and himself. And you have that in the Bible, which includes Christ’s words of wisdom the Church has highlighted for centuries:

    “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11.28-29).

    Who especially need to come to the risen Jesus this Christmas? Certainly all need his counsel or teaching about God. For he reveals what God is fundamentally like. Everyone has some religion, even if you reject the God of the Bible. You will hold something as ultimate. For many today in the West that is society itself, with its egalitarianism, democracy, and brotherhood.

    But without the Fatherhood of the God as revealed by Jesus, the brotherhood of man is soon lost; democracy can mean 51 percent enslaving 49 percent; and equality disappears when all cease to be seen as created in God’s image.

    So secondly, for our good, Jesus teaches that ultimately there is an EVERLASTING FATHER.

    Do you think you are just like a tiny speck of interstellar dust in a meaningless cosmic universe of infinite size? Well, Jesus says, you are so wrong. For ultimately the God, who is there, cares for you and loves you.

    Jesus says he even knows the number of hairs on your head. And he wants to help you and correct you; and he won’t forget you tomorrow. For God is an everlasting father. So trust him.

    Thirdly, Isaiah mysteriously claimed that the one to be born king was MIGHTY GOD.

    That is at the heart of the Christmas message. For Jesus who reveals what God is like, somehow is God himself, as our 1st reading claims:

    “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1.1)

    Yes, it took time for people to realize who Jesus really was – that uniquely he was not only truly human, but also truly divine. His Resurrection with an Empty Tomb and the coming of his Holy Spirit proved that Jesus has neither rivals nor successors. He is unique.

    Other religious leaders and philosophers point to what they believe is ultimate or God. They say, “this is the way and the truth and the life”. But Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life … whoever has seen me has see the father” and, “no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6-9).

    Yes, Jesus was sane and John is believable. After researching for her play-cycle, Dorothy Sayers commented:

    “St John’s [Gospel] … claims to be the direct report of an eyewitness. And to any one accustomed to the imaginative handling of documents, the internal evidence bears out this claim.”

    But Jesus was not only unique in his person, he was unique in his death.

    For fourthly, he is the PRINCE OF PEACE

    What is the cause of “man at war with man”, as our Carol puts it, and other human conflict – even in families on Christmas Day? Answer: the sinful human heart that by nature leads to ignoring God, going our own way and doing wrong.

    So says Jesus, the Saviour from such sin. For by his death bearing our guilt, he brings us peace with God resulting in peace with others. That is the Christmas Good-News. The apostle Peter writes:

    “Christ … suffered once for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God.”

    And accepting God’s forgiveness, by faith in Christ, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, you can start to live Christ’s way of peace and not the world’s way of selfishness and conflict.

    23rd November, just past, was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. That same day C S Lewis, famous for his Narnia Chronicles and many other Christian books, also died. All a distinguished journalist could quote, regarding Kennedy’s death, were two lines from Dylan Thomas:

    “Do not go gentle into that good night;Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

    By contrast C S Lewis died having a great hope of heaven. Of his death you could quote Paul’s words:

    “with Christ, for that is far better”.

    Yes, Lewis believed hell proved God’s respect for human freedom. But he knew that the risen, reigning and returning Jesus Christ was his Saviour from sin, and Emmanuel – God with him – even in death. And he knew those words (with their Trinitarian hint), “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”, apply to Jesus, the man born to be king.

    So the Christmas challenge is:

    “are we submitting to his rule, and who needs to start on his way of peace – for time and eternity?”