Sermon preached by Archedeacon Trevor Harrison 29 December 2019:
Christmas is over. Already people are starting to take the decorations down, to put the crib scenes away and the tree has been dragged out waiting to be next winter's firewood. It's over. Now back to normal. Christmas is a wonderland, a fantasy of peace, joy, love and goodwill. But normal is the world as it really is, the workaday, ordinary fallen world.
And yet, after all of tyhe partying, visits to and from relatives, all of the eating, the school holidays, isn't there something within you that looks forward to getting back to work, back to your accustomed routine, back to normal?
And yet, something has happened in our world since we last met. Jesus has been born. God, the Creator of the world, has come among us, intruded upon us as the babe at Bethlehe. We sang songs of welcoming joy to the baby Jesus just last week.
Bishop Tom Wright, the modern day biblical scholar tells of preaching at a big Christmas service where a well known historian, famous for his scepticism toward Christianity, had been persuaded to attend by his family. Afterward he approached Tom Wright, all smiles.
"I've finally worked it out," he declared, "why people like Christmas."
"Really?" Wright said, "Do tell me."
"A baby threatens no one," he said, "so the whole thing is a happy event that means nothing at all!"
Wright was dumbfounded, for as he says, at the heart of the Christmas story in Matthew's Gospel is a baby who poses such a threat to the most powerful man around that he kills a whole village full of other babies in order to try and get rid of him...Whatever else you say about Jesus, from his birth onward, people certainly found him a threat. He upset their power arrangements, and sufered the usual fate of people who do that. In fact the shadow of the corss fall over the story from that moment on. Jesus is born with a price on his head. Plots are hatched; angels have to warn Joseph; they only just escape Bethlehem in time. Herod the Great, who thought nothing of killing members of his own family, including his own beloved wife, when he suspected them of scheming against him, and who gave orders when dying that the leading citizens of Jericho should be slaughtered so that people would be weeping at his funeral--this Herod would not bat an eyelid at the thought of killing little babies in case one of them should be considered as a royal pretender. As Herod's power had increased, so had his paranoia--a failiar progression as dictators around the world have shown from that day to this.
Jesus was born in a land and at a time of trouble, tension, violence and fear. Banish all thoughts of peaceful Christmas scenes. Before the "prince of peace" had learned to walk and talk, he was a homeless refugee with a price on his head.
Alas, this ancient story is all too typical in our world today. There are something like 50 million refugees around our world this day, crowded into terrible conditions, fearing for their lives. In Sudan, in the Sahara, in Malaysia, in Jesus' own homeland, millions who are homeless, jobless, and hopeless.
We welcomed Jesus as Lord and Saviour. But King Herod did not welcome him. King Herod could tell a threat to his power when he met one. In one sense this all seems ridiculous. How could a king be threatened by a little baby?
This little baby brought a new kingdom, a new rule, a different sort of sovereignty. In one sense, the baby Jesus was no real threat to Herod's throne. In another sense, this little baby was an attack on everything that Herod believed in. This little baby is also an attack on everything we believe in. After welcoming him into our world there is a sense in which none of us can ever go back to normalcy. He makes us all "refugees" from our old, accustomed ways of doing things. there are people here today who could tell us. There you were, proceeding along in your accustomed ruts, just going through the motions, just normal. Then you met Jesus. The babe at Bethlehem was born into your life, your world, and everything got disrupted. You were forced to move, to make change.
Back in the early part of of last century, Dorothy Day founded the Catholic Worker Movement, a world-wide movement that even today ministers among the poor in the name of Christ. Day had little patience with those who claimed that Christ was an historical figure, born 2000 years before us, long ago, far away from where we are today. "Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts," she said.
How is Christ with us today? Day said that Christ is present, and Christ speaks to us in the faces and the voices of those who surround us, particularly those who are in great need. The Holy Family still needs shelter from the cold. The babe at Bethlehem still needs to a protecting hand. In the homeless family, in the refugee, we continue to be confronted by the living, present Christ. In giving to those in need, we give to Christ.
We need all to be refugees from our old ways. Since Jesus was born among us, little should be the same. We jsut can't go back to normal.