Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday 28 December 2008 - God in the Mess

I couldn't preach this morning and ignore what has happened in Gaza this weekend with over 250 people dead. The sermon is based on the Gospel reading from the Common Worship Lectionary rather than from the Revised Common Lectionary. Luke 2:15-21


The Messiah Has Come

In today's Gospel reading, we hear once again the end of Luke's story of Christmas. There have been miraculous appearances by angels, there have been shepherds and there have been hymns of praise, both earthly and celestial. Everything in Luke's narrative points to Jesus as the Messiah so that the reader is left in no doubt as to who Jesus is or what his significance is.

And, finally, when the momentous events have been accomplished and the shepherds and the angels have departed, Mary is left to ponder all of these events in her heart.

Then the next thing that happens in Luke's narrative is the circumcision of Jesus. Luke is affirming yet again the status of Jesus as the Messiah, the one through whom God's promises to the human race are to be fulfilled. Circumcision is a sign of God's covenant promise with his people.

Listen to what a modern Jewish rabbi has to say about the rite of circumcisions as an expression of God's covenant and what that means[1]:
'There will come a time when all human beings will live in full dignity and freedom....The covenant is that bond through which God and the Jewish people dream together and work together toward an alternative reality, a world in which human dignity is real and the presence of God is manifest.'

Other Mothers

Over the last week or so during the season of Christmas, we have been hearing stories of shepherds and lambs and wise men and gifts and mothers and babies. And our young ones have been acting in nativity plays; and the week of Christmas has been a time for celebrations and feasting and maybe a bit too much activity as well.

And I can't help but think that against this backdrop of our celebrations, the ceasefire between Israel and Gaza has fallen apart in the last fortnight and hundreds of people in the region of the Holy Land have been killed this weekend.

I don't want to take sides or appear to take sides. The current violence has a long and complicated history and there is always more than one side to any conflict. But as I was thinking about Mary's ponderings and her hopes for her own child, I came across the stories of two other mothers in the Holy Land.

The first story is Hava's{2]. A Jewish mother of three in a town called Sderot. On the 19th of December she said:
'A rocket landed 10 metres from my house last week. The ceasefire may have officially ended today, but in reality it was over long before that. I don't feel protected here, not at all. I hope that Israel does go into Gaza even if citizens there get hurt. Because here in Sderot we are getting hurt. Life is very difficult. We have my husband's salary from the bed factory here in Sderot, but it's barely enough. I am sure there are simple citizens like me in Gaza, who want nothing but to wake up in the morning, go to work and take care of the children. But if I have to choose between my son or someone else's son, I choose my son.'

...And what mother wouldn't?

The second story is Mirvat's[3], a Palestinian mother who lives in the Gaza. Her family was caught in the crossfire of a gun-battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants. Whilst taking cover in their own living room with her five children, her oldest son and daughter, aged 18 and 17 were killed by snipers when they accidentally moved into the snipers' view.  Mirvat said:
'We feel like there is no reason to live any more....'We have to talk to the other side, we have to have peace, so that we can all - us and them - live safely.'

And what mother wouldn't want to live in safety with her children?

Christ our Saviour

So here we have the ponderings of three mothers: From Scripture, the pondering of Mary on Jesus' Messiahship and what that might ultimately mean. And from our world, the pondering of two mothers in an imperfect and dangerous world who are afraid for their children and their future.

Jesus came to the world as the Prince of Peace and yet it appears that we have no peace. In such circumstances, talk of a world in which human dignity is real and the presence of God is manifest can sometimes seem hollow and unreal.

The Christmas image of the baby in the manger may be a sweet picture, but ultimately the message of Christmas is not meant to be charming or bucolic. The message of Christmas is that God is in this messy world with us. And that he is here in fact as well as in Spirit.

The baby lying in that crib at Christmas will ultimately share the everyday sorrows of human life as well as all its everyday joys. But Jesus will also experience the worst that human life has to offer: betrayal, humiliation, shame and a painful, violent death. His last words will be words of forgiveness and his last act will unite us with God and with God's forgiveness forever. And his resurrection will be a sign that God is a God who is completely alive and without reference to death.

The message of Christmas is ultimately a message of hope, but is not a saccharine or unreal hope, but a gritty hope born out of the worst that humanity can do.

When human beings suffer at the hands of others and can still forgive, then we recognise the human dignity of those who hurt us and we access a dignity in ourselves that can only come from the Spirit of God. And when we we suffer randomly at the hands of life's circumstances, it is God's Spirit that gives us the strength to continue in hope.


The beauty of the incarnation does not lie in the sweetness of one newborn child. The beauty of the incarnation lies in the fact that God's salvation came through the reality of this world and through the reality of Jesus' humanity. Salvation does not come because human beings are removed from the world but because God has come into the world.

As we come to The Lord's Table in a few minutes, I pray that we, like Mary, will ponder the mystery of the incarnation in our hearts. And I pray that we will not only ponder this mystery but that we will trust in God's promises and that we will and pray and work for a world where all mothers dare to hope for a future of peace on earth for their children. Amen


[1] Rabbi Shai Held at: Accessed 27 December 2008
[2] BBC Website, 15:13 GMT, Friday 19 December 2008. Accessed 27 December 2008.
[3} BBC Website 15:54 GMT, Thursday 18 December 2008. Accessed 27 December 2008.

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