The angels' first Christmas sermon

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One of the top 10 Christmas Cracker Jokes last year according to TV Gold’s annual competition was this:

Why is Christmas dinner a lot like Brexit?

Half the family were told they needed to make room for Turkey, so opted to leave Brussels.

And that is not just a bad joke. It is based on fact. For apparently according to the Office of National Statistics our supermarkets sell approximately 750 million individual Brussels sprouts at Christmas time. But only about half of those Brussels sprouts are eaten! We are divided up into haters and lovers of sprouts as revealed each Christmas. Similarly, and more seriously, not just our taste in sprouts but our attitude to Jesus Christ himself, the one whose birth we are celebrating, is also revealed each Christmas. And it’s revealed not to those around the dinner table but to ourselves.

For Christmas offers us a private spiritual health-check over how we respond to Jesus Christ. And it automatically occurs when we think about that first-ever Christmas sermon which was there in our last reading and especially what the Angel said to the shepherds, namely (Luke 2.10-11):

Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people [not just some]. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.

So what does that mean? It means this: At a certain point in real time, a real event took place, in a real town that was uniquely important for the whole human race and our entire cosmos. And the event, as we heard in our carol. was when:

…he came down to earth from heaven
who is God and Lord of all.

And who then:

With the poor and mean and lowly
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

And in that first-ever Christmas Sermon the first of three points of that Good News is that (Luke 2.11):

…unto you is born this day in the city of David A SAVIOUR.

But what does a Saviour mean? Well, not a political Saviour. Many of the Jews at that time would have felt that the problems with life were all political. For their freedoms were limited by their Roman overlords. And some thought all would be well when they had their own version of Brexit. But that was foolish as they discovered when they tried to take back political power in AD66. For the Romans then came in AD 70 and utterly destroyed Jerusalem. How the Jewish people needed to learn that the fundamental problem was not a social problem! Rather it was in themselves - in the sin and guilt in their own hearts. And that is still true. As Jesus said (Matthew 15.19-20):

Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person

So they didn’t realize we all by nature have spiritual heart disease.

This past year saw the 75th anniversary of the liberation in 1945 of the German Concentration camps and the discovery of their horror. But as Gordon Rupp writes, some of those most guilty could not see the dreadful wrong they had done. I quote:

In a profound sense this unawareness of guilt is not modern, but the plight of all men. We might go further and say, that the guiltier they are, the less biting is their conscience: and Eichmann and the sadistic lady jailer at Belsen would support that view.

As a wiser German, Martin Luther, said centuries earlier:

The Scripture [The Bible] sets before us a man who is not only bound, wretched, captive, sick and dead…but who adds to his miseries that of blindness, so that he believes himself to be free, happy, possessed of liberty and ability, whole and alive.

So how we need the light of Christ to see that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). And remember sin is not only the positive wrong you do, or say, or think. It is, also, the good you could have done that you have not done.

Research has shown that many respectable people who lived near the concentration camps, often suspected something was wrong, but did nothing about it. Yes, there are sins of omission as well as of commission. But as the shepherds were told now, so Joseph, Jesus’ father, was told before Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1.21):

he will save his people from their sin.

The second point in the Angel’s sermon is that the Saviour is CHRIST.

Christ is a Greek word. In Hebrew it is Messiah. In English it is an ‘anointed one’. And in the Jewish tradition the anointed ones were prophets, priests, and, kings. So, one, Jesus, our Saviour, was and is our supreme prophet – the mouthpiece of God. If so, how we must listen to, and obey, his teaching! As we heard in our first reading, he was, and is, the divine Word and the true light, which enlightens everyone (John 1.9).

So how we need, in these confusing times, Jesus’ teaching by his Holy Spirit to guide us all, in our private lives, our homes, our schools and colleges and in Parliament. For Jesus was, and is, our supreme prophet. Then, two, Jesus was, and is, our supreme Priest. A Priest’s task in ancient Israel was to offer sacrifices to open a way for sinful men and women to relate to a loving but holy God. For because of his love, he hates all sin for it is damaging and destructive – and not only the evil of the Nazi Holocaust, but also the sins of omission of outwardly respectable people. And the Apostle Paul puts it bluntly (Romans 6.23):

the wages of sin is death

and it ultimately deserves punishment and hell. However, that verse immediately goes on:

but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As we will hear in our Christmas Eve mid-night Communion Service:

in God’s tender mercy [the Father] gave [his] only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the cross for our redemption; he made there a full atonement for the sins of the whole world, offering once for all his one sacrifice of himself.

So Christ, our supreme Priest, made the supreme sacrifice of himself bearing the punishment we deserve to enable us to be ‘one’ and in relationship with God – our loving heavenly Father. And that happens through, as our first reading put it, being like those who did receive him [Christ], who believed in his name. So, one, our supreme Prophet; two, our supreme Priest; then, three, Christ, the anointed one, is our supreme King.

We always watch the Queen’s Christmas Day broadcast on TV. And it always reminds me of her Coronation, which I watched live and during which the Archbishop gives to the Queen the Royal Orb (representing the globe and on top of it a Cross) with these words:

Receive this orb set under the Cross and remember that the whole world is subject to the power and empire of Christ our redeemer.

But that was no more than was predicted by Isaiah 700 years before Jesus’ birth as we heard in our 3rd reading (Isaiah 9.6-7):

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.

But you say: “How can Christ be the king of kings and with such supreme power and authority over the whole world?” Well, the answer, is there in Isaiah and in the third point of the angel’s sermon, that Jesus our Saviour, and Christ (our prophet, priest and king) is none other than THE LORD

The ‘Lord’ being the word used to translate Yahweh, the Hebrew word in the Bible for our covenant God. And so in our first carol were these words:

God of God, Light of Light, Lo! He abhors not the virgin’s womb; Very God, Begotten not created, O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

But is that based on truth? The answer has to be, “Yes”. And the main evidence is Easter which has to be celebrated along with Christmas. For the really Good News is not just that Jesus Christ was born, but that after his ignominious death on the third day he rose again with his body transformed and leaving a tomb empty. Then he was seen by, and met with, his disciples who were then willing to die, being so convinced that he was alive. No wonder the conclusion to that first Christmas sermon was that (Luke 2.13-14):

…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 that offer of peace - peace with God, peace with yourself and peace with others – is for those who truly trust and obey our Saviour who is Christ the Lord.

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