Christmas Eve Holy Communion

Well Merry Christmas everybody. Christmas Day is only a matter of minutes away! Can I commend you on your choice to come here tonight? This is a brilliant opportunity to take some time out of the busyness of the season and reflect on God's Word, to pray and to remember Jesus' sacrifice for us. Let's pray to begin.

God speak to us today from your word. Change our hearts. Help us to rely on you and trust in you! Amen

Now to start with I have a question for you. Can you remember a time when there was news, which was unanimously appreciated by the entire population? So many news stories are either tragic or polarising. Someone's happiness is terrible news for someone else. And I think it's fair to say we have had some very polarising news stories over the past year. However, there was a news story early in 2010 that made the whole country happy. No one was upset with this news! Can you think what it might be? Well on Wednesday January 6th 2010 at exactly 12 minutes past 8 the BBC announced that everyone would get an extra bank holiday for the queen's jubilee! For an insignificantly small and potentially forgettable moment there was a great joy for all the people, in England at least. The passage that we had read earlier tells of an eternally significant and unforgettable moment, when it was announced that there is a great joy that is genuinely for all the people. Not just for people then, but for all time!

Have a look at that reading we had from Luke 2. You know the story. In a field around the city of Bethlehem a group of shepherds were out looking after their sheep, when all of a sudden the glory of the Lord shone around them. Now lets hold it right there.

That is probably not the first time you have heard the start to that story and for most of us that has gone straight over our heads. We've heard this before… So let's start again. In an ordinary field beside Bethlehem, a town in first century Palestine, some men doing the very ordinary job of looking after some sheep during the night were going about their business as you would expect. Then something incredible happens. An angel appears to them. Not a cute chubby infant like in the statues but one of God's spiritual servants and around them shines the glory of the Lord. This is an extraordinary situation. And the shepherds - how do they react? They were terrified! And no wonder, you might think. They have just seen an angel!

But if we read this passage in the context of the whole of the Bible we know that the angel is not what terrifies them the most. All the way through the Bible, God is presented as pure and holy and awesome and these attributes means that he looks glorious. His glory is one of his most important attributes. His glory can be described as the weight of his goodness. And he is so good and so glorious that if you look at him, and you aren't perfect, if you aren't without sin, you will die instantly. God is so pure, so good that his glory is dangerous. If you are a sinner, you can't stand being in the presence of God. He is too pure, too good. Moses a prophet of God in the Old Testament asks God if he can see his face. God replies:

"You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." (Exodus 33.20)

The whole Old Testament talks about the glory of the Lord and how dangerous it is. A man called Uzzah dies when he touches the ark of the covenant, the place where God's glory dwells. He dies because he is an imperfect sinner and God is a pure and holy and sinless God. The two cannot meet. Hopefully now you get the true shock of the scenario that is being played out in Luke 2. These were some ordinary shepherds on the hillside and all of a sudden the glory of the Lord is shining around them. No wonder they are terrified! Their fear puts us into their shoes. We, like the shepherds, are sinners. Just like every person who has ever lived, we are not pure, not good, not glorious. We should fear God. Any other reaction shows we haven't understood our predicament. As a human race we are in the same problem as the shepherds. We haven't seen the glory of the lord yet and we haven't seen angels yet, but we will. The Bible clearly explains that when we die we will meet God and just like the shepherds our initial reaction to that should be fear. In Romans 3.22-23 Paul writes:

"For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"

I don't know how you feel about that statement tonight. Maybe you were hoping for a jollier message. But let me tell you, the good news of Christmas, what the angel will go on to explain, is only good news if the bad news is clearly understood. We are sinners. Beside a perfect God we are failures. In our hearts we all know that we are not what we want to be. We cannot satisfy our own moral standards, never mind God's. The shepherd's reaction is appropriate as they see God's glory and understand their own sin.

But here is the second twist, instead of a message of condemnation on the shepherds that you might expect, the angel delivers an incredible message. The angels tells them the best news anyone has ever heard. Better than any sporting triumph, better than any political change, even better than an extra bank holiday. The angel says (Luke 2.10-13):

"Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger."

Seeing God and his glory causes us to fear, but God's message is 'fear not'! Why? Because God has some great news for all the people and that includes us!

Joy is a word we hear a lot around this time of the year, isn't it? It's tempting to think of joy in a similar way to the way we think of the word happy. That it is a cheerful emotion that is shallow and fleeting. The Bible uses the word joy in a different way. Joy is a steady confident satisfaction. It is, in reality, what all humans are longing to feel. If we are consumerists, and Christmas tends to show that lots of us are, then we look for joy in having stuff. If we are a romantic we look for joy in relationships. If we are career-driven we look for joy in our job. The problem with all these examples is that none of them ever end up giving us that long lasting satisfaction, that joy we are so desperate to enjoy. Our Christmas lists each year show how dissatisfying having stuff can be. We always want more. Our relationships too cannot be all satisfying. There are glimmers of joy on wedding days and then for many people marriage can be a struggle, not a fairy-tale. And that comes from someone getting married in July! We need to look elsewhere for joy and that is why the angel's message is so important. John Piper, a Christian writer says,

"The first Christmas was the dawning of an indestructible joy!"

I think that's a beautiful way of putting it.

"The first Christmas was the dawning of an indestructible joy!"

The angel announces there is "good news of great joy that is for all the people"! There is all-satisfying joy available! And it's for all people! But what is it found in? And how can we get it if the glory of God is so terrifying? Let's look back at what the angels says, because they answer both those questions. They say (v11):

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."

How is this indestructible joy available? It is available because a saviour was born. What did those terrified shepherds need most, what do we who will meet God and see his glory need most? We need a saviour. Someone who will save us from the consequences we deserve. It can't just be anybody. It must be the person who we need saving from. I'll say again what the angels said in case you missed it. They say:

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."

Who is born? It is Christ the Lord! The one whose glory terrifies the shepherds and should cause us to fear has been born. On that first Christmas a baby is born who is God himself.

I help run 'Kids Zone' the after school club we put on for Primary Aged children here at St Joseph's. A couple of weeks ago we were teaching the story of the wise men. I was saying that they gave Jesus gold as a gift because Jesus was King. One of the kids shouted out, "But I thought God is king!" And when I replied that Jesus was God, the kids' mouths dropped. We have become too used to the fact that Jesus was God on earth. It is normal for us to say it. But there is nothing normal about it. It is offensive to Muslims and Jews and inexplicable to the atheist, but it is true. Jesus was God. God in the flesh. Fully God and fully man. It is incredible to think that the creator and powerful God who made everything became a man. Sent by God the Father, God the Son was born to be our saviour. Shai Linne who is a Christian rapper in the states puts it like this:

"...This amazing Jesus
Who made Uranus and Venus became a foetus...
The subject of the gospels, praise of Apostles
Armed with eye sockets, arm pits and nostrils?...
See the One who never tires knocked out sleeping
See the Source of eternal joy weeping
Which one can explain how the Son abundant with fame
Who made thunder and rain now has hunger pains?"

The Hypostatic Union, Shai Linne

It is impossible to fully comprehend this beautiful reality. So what are we going to do about it this Christmas? What action should we take? We need to follow the lead of the multitude of the heavenly host and the shepherds. Luke 2.13-14:

"And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!""

And the shepherds when they have seen Jesus, Luke writes in verse 20 they "returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them." We need to follow this lead and praise God for this incredible news of a great joy that is for all the people. We should take some time out of the busyness, ponder and pray over these things. Tonight will hopefully be a good opportunity for that. But this news doesn't just affect us at Christmas. We all need to contemplate how this will affect the way we live our whole lives. If it is true it will affect everything!

If you aren't totally sure about it all yet, maybe you are here for the first time or you thought you were a Christian and have done for some time but you are unsure about some of the things that I have been saying, please keep coming back here to St Joseph's and maybe come along to one of our Life Explored groups we will be running in the new year and work out if Jesus really is the Saviour and Christ the Lord.

Tonight we will be partaking in the Lord's Supper together. This is a celebration of what Jesus, who was Christ the Lord did for us to save us. Use this opportunity to remember that Christmas Day is a day to celebrate because God, the one who we should fear because of our sin, came to deal with our sin so that we can have an indestructible joy. Let me pray:

Father, thank you for sending Jesus. We acknowledge that we are sinful and your glory caused us to fear. But we thank you that you have saved us from the consequences of our sin. Help us to enjoy and wonder at the fact that God became man. We praise you and love you.
Amen

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