'How will Christmas Dinner be different after Brexit?' Answer: 'No Brussels'. That won last year a competition for best new Christmas Cracker joke. This year, Essex police have launched a new Advent Calendar. On their website a different wanted criminal or suspect is revealed daily. And the annual unveiling of Fenwick's window is in this tradition of something new for Christmas. But that first Christmas something new of infinite significance was revealed outside Bethlehem. It was when shepherds heard those words:
"unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord."
But what does "a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" really mean? To explain let me read from the Bible and the letter to the Hebrews and its first verses:
"Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high."
Bertrand Russell, the atheist philosopher, is reported as being asked what he would say, if, on judgment day, God asked him, 'Why did you not believe in me?' Russell simply replied: "I would say, 'Not enough evidence'!" But those verses show God has given sufficient evidence. For God speaks and you can know what he says. And because he speaks you can know that, in some way, God is there and he is personal. He is not just an idea. Yes, he is more than human minds can fully understand. But what God has revealed is enough. And this revelation was in two periods. The first period was when God spoke through prophets before Christ was born (an example of which we heard in our third reading from Isaiah). The second was when supremely God revealed himself through Jesus, who was born as a baby in Bethlehem. So:
"Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son."
All that is remarkable evidence. But, like the Pharisees in Jesus time, many still demand evidence but are never open to conviction.
Someone here may be receiving a 'voice control device' this Christmas from Amazon or Google. These devices play music, answer questions, tell you the weather and can do all sorts of other things for you. Well, God isn't like a mega 'voice control device'. You can't shout into the sky and wait for a thunderous reply echoing across space. No! God has chosen to work by revealing or communicating, first, partially and progressively, through prophets. Then through his final and complete self-revelation in Jesus Christ, who has no equals and no successors. And that is great evidence for God being there and why we celebrate Christmas. But if that is so – if Jesus Christ is God's final word - how important for good living and even more importantly for good dying we know exactly who he is and what he is like.
Apparently the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) reckon that this Christmas 1.5 million more drones could enter British airspace over the festive period. That would put the UK drone total up to 3.5 million. But a quarter of those planning to buy a drone this Christmas are (or were) unaware of the rules governing their use. That can be lethal. There was a near miss putting 130 lives at risk near Gatwick in July. Similarly, we need to know about the now risen and reigning Jesus, and how we should respond to him. That is, if we, too, are not spiritually to put lives at risk now and eternally. For Hebrews says that he (Jesus, the divine Son of God) is the:
"heir of all things, through whom also he [God the Father] created the world."
That echoes our first reading tonight from John 1.3:
"All things were made through him and without him was not any thing made that was made."
So if Jesus Christ is our creator or maker, we must take seriously his instructions, just as a new drone owner needs to know and follow the drone-maker's instructions. However, then our Hebrews' verses say this:
"He [the baby born in Bethlehem] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power"
Yes, that is Trinitarian and involves picture language. But it is saying that Jesus Christ is truly one with God (his Father) whom he is exactly like, but from whom he is truly distinct. So if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.
"Whoever has seen me has seen the Father"
says Jesus in John 14.9. Then following that Trinitarian statement is this:
"he [Jesus Christ] upholds the universe by the word of his power."
That is saying, amazingly, the existence of this universe in terms of the Solar System, the Milky Way and all the other galaxies and beyond is being upheld "by the word of Christ's power". So, too, is the world in sub-atomic terms and in terms of human life. But if that is true, of course, Jesus Christ can be concerned for you and me whom he upholds by his word of power. Jesus himself once said:
"even the hairs of our head are all numbered. Fear not"
Therefore, he knows all about you and your problems. And he cares for you and wants the best for you. So trust him. But you say, 'how on earth is all this believable?' Well, the clue is in the final words of these verses, that say:
"After making purification for sins, he [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high."
That refers to Jesus' death and resurrection. And so it relates to the world's deepest problem.
Why can a journalist write last week an article headed, 'Would it really be Christmas without a family meltdown?' And why was one of our Southern Sudanese midwives shot in the South Sudan just a week or so ago – a woman AID (Anglican International Development) had help train over the last three years. And she had to feign death with 37 other people killed around her? The Bible says it is due to human sin. As we heard in our second reading, our first parents, decided they knew better than God. But disaster for the human race has followed ever since. Sin is like an anti-God power or instinct let loose in the world and we all in some measure are infected by it. But Christmas is the good news that a saviour from sin was born. His coming, we are to told here, involved making "purification for sins" and so making you spiritually safe for now and eternity if you trust him.
There will be people here tonight who have done some pretty bad things in life. And there will be people here having failed to do serious good they should have done. And we all sin. And no doctor, social worker or politician can cure sin. Yes, they can treat symptoms. But they cannot get rid of the disease. Jesus, however, dealt with the problem through his death. Such was God's love that he gave Jesus, his only Son, to die for you and me as we remember at Communion Services on Christmas Eve. On the Cross of Calvary where he was so cruelly crucified, he – the creator of the world, the one who holds the universe together – bore the guilt and punishment we deserve. So we can be forgiven as we trust in him and receive his Holy Spirit for new life.
And all that is believable. Why? Because on the third day Jesus rose from death. He left a tomb really empty and ascended to his Father. And his body miraculously was transformed as a foretaste of a Resurrection, promised one day when he returns to judge the world, for all those who trust in him. And he reigns now as King of kings and Lord of lords. For …
"… after making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High."
2017, because of Luther, is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. So why not this year apply the Reformers threefold concern for knowledge, assent and commitment to the truths of Christmas, even if you've never done so before? That means, one, face the facts; two, admit they are believable; and three, personally trust in Jesus as your "Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" and who "…hath made heaven and earth of naught; and with his blood mankind hath bought," as we shall now sing. Amen.