The twenty-fifth of December is a day that focuses on the home. The family and children are at the centre on Christmas day. This year Rank-Warner were offering older people a quiet, child-free holiday break, with Christmas Day and Boxing Day being celebrated in November. But it is good to celebrate the birth of Christ in December as a family time. The early Christians chose the twenty-fifth of December. That was the peak time of a pagan Roman festival in honour of the Sun. They said, "No! don't get debauched in celebrating the coming of the Sun but celebrate the birth of the true Light of the World - the creator of the Sun - Jesus Christ." And it was the evangelical Christian revival in the last century that led to a strengthening of family values and the family Christmas. At the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign in 1837 children did not have Christmas stockings; they did not have presents; and they did not have Christmas crackers - they were not yet invented. By the end of the century all that had changed. Christmas was now a time for the family, for children and for giving gifts, especially to the poor and needy. But perhaps you have come in here tonight to Jesmond Parish Church, and you say, "I am not sure at all what my home is going to be like this Christmas." It was like that for Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was going to have a baby and Joseph was not the father. We read, she was "greatly troubled". There are millions today in the world, like Mary, who are troubled. There are troubles and problems that seem to have no solutions. 800 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, Isaiah said, as we heard in our 3rd reading:
the people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
The prophet had a vision of the coming of Christ and of the light that was to shine in the world and would help in time of trouble. It was the announcement that God, one day, was going to enter human history in the form of a child - the Prince of Peace. Millions today seek to live their lives without God. As a result there is trouble and darkness. There is darkness in Newcastle when a 90 year old war veteran and ex-boxer is brutally attacked, tied up and left to die in Heaton. There is darkness when a school for children with Special Needs in Ferryhill, County Durham, is burnt out by arson, with Christmas presents and much else destroyed. Some people pretend there is no darkness. They try to forget it through activity. At this season, psychologists tell us, some people have a drug-like high through shopping. There are an estimated 700,000 shopping addicts in Britain. This year it is predicted £24.5 billion will be spent on presents, food and drink. But the message of Christmas is that Christ is the only answer - "in him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness." There are many other vital lessons in the message of the coming of Christ. Let me now give you three of them from our 4th reading. The first is this. Jesus was born into A HUMBLE HOME AND FAMILY. He was born in a small town, Bethlehem, to an obscure woman, Mary. As we have just sung, it was ...
... with the poor and mean and lowly ...
... that Jesus lived his life on earth. Do you think you are not important enough for God? The choir sang in another carol:
where meek souls will receive him - stillthe dear Christ enters in.
You don't have to be rich or famous for the Holy Spirit to work in your life or for you to receive Christ as your Saviour. Everyone is special to God. The bible says, "even the very hairs of your head are all numbered" (Mat 10.30). Secondly, you must learn from the LAST WORDS OF THE ANGEL GABRIEL TO MARY:
nothing is impossible with God.
Do you believe that? You may have doubts and questions about your faith. Until heaven, there is much you cannot understand about God and his ways. Martin Luther used to say that when he had doubts he would turn to the baby in Bethlehem. You can't get round the facts of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These historical facts dispel doubts. But also if you believe in the almighty power of God, that too will dispel your doubts. John says: "through him [Jesus Christ] all things were made". He is the creator. With the almighty creator everything is possible. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. There is no sin that is too bad to be forgiven. Perhaps there is someone here tonight and you think you are too bad for God. You are wrong. Jesus was born to die. His blood cleanses from all sin. On the cross he bore your guilt in your place. Nor is there any trial too hard to be borne. Perhaps you are going through a difficult time. Jesus says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12.9). "Nothing is impossible with God" - that is a great truth to remember at Christmas. Of course, the virginal conception of Jesus was possible. Of course, it is possible for Jesus Christ to be the only way, the only truth and the only life. Other philosophies, other religions, other ideologies are men seeking God. That first Christmas, in Christ, God was seeking us. And the third lesson is from MARY'S RESPONSE to the angel.
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said."
The secret of happiness is doing God's will. He made you. He knows what is best for you. And his great will is for you (and me) to be in a relationship with him. John 1.12:
"To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God."
That is God's will - for God's family to grow as there are more and more children of God. How do you receive Christ and become a child of God? Answer: you believe in Jesus Christ, you trust him, you seek his forgiveness for the fact that you have gone your own way and not God's - and by his Holy Spirit you receive his power and new life. And that is the way not only to happiness but also to peace - with God, with others and with yourself. During the Korean War one Christmas Eve a young soldier lay dying on a hill named Heartbreak Ridge. His army chaplain climbed up to where he was and whispered, "Let me help you?" "No! it's all right" was the reply. The chaplain was amazed. Then he noticed that in the soldier's hand was a New Testament. The reason the man was confident in the face of death was on the page where his finger was inserted - the words of Jesus:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (Jn 14.27).
Like Mary you too may be afraid - you may be afraid of the future in general, of death in particular, or, more seriously, of your eternal future after death. Like Mary you may be troubled - in your family, in your home, in your marriage, about your children, about your work, about your health or about anything. But if you trust God and receive Christ, you too can experience that peace - peace now and for all eternity. You will then not experience God's judgment and a Christless eternity, but eternal life with Christ in heaven. So why not say this Christmas
"Lord Jesus Christ, I want your peace - peace with God through the cross; peace with others (and in my home and family) from obeying your word; and peace with myself by your Holy Spirit?"