Approximately 2,700 years ago the prophet Isaiah spoke about the people who lived in darkness and in the land of gloom seeing a great light. It was one of his Messianic prophecies, one of God’s indications that His promised Messiah would soon be among us.
There are those living around us today who live in spiritual darkness, people who don’t join us this Christmas or feel joy and happiness as we commemorate the birth of our Saviour. At the worst they are bitter, and at the best they are merely stoic. Their hearts and minds either passively ignore or actively reject what we believe and celebrate here this morning.
It’s probably worth our while reflecting for a few moments upon three of their most commonly held positions in order that we might bring into focus why we are here and what we celebrate today.
Many people will tell us that there has been no genuine and lasting peace in our world as a result of the birth of Jesus Christ: this Christ whom we believe to be the promised Messiah. They claim that if Jesus were truly the Messiah, then all wars and conflicts would have ended and we would have enjoyed 2,000 years of blissful peace.
They also claim that human behaviour hasn’t really changed since the coming of Christ. People, even Christian people, are as arrogant, greedy, aggressive, oppressive, and as lustful as they have ever been, and the acquisitiveness of our own high standard of living, wealth and power has made us only more so. Our projection and assertion of the individual ego, self-centeredness and pride has only increased. They say that Christianity has been on the decline and is, in fact, a failure.
Their third position asserts that God has been as absent and as silent as ever He was prior to the coming of Christ; and they challenge us to show them how Christianity has brought us closer to God?
Now these are pretty gloomy and depressing thoughts for Christmas morning. But like the darkness that tries to overcome the lights on our Christmas trees, these dark thoughts only serve to bring before our eyes the brightness of the Light that has, in fact, come into our hearts and souls through our faith in Jesus Christ.
For that’s precisely the point that all three of these positions fail to address. The Kingdom of God, and the reign of Christ is located within us, personally. Jesus Christ wasn’t a political and socialist Messiah, He didn’t come to project a divine power designed to subjugate and conquer our worldly political, economic and military order. Judas Iscariot thought Jesus should have; and Judas sold him out for a paltry 30 pieces of silver, thinking that money and power were the only tools that could conquer the world.
Our Lord has, in fact, brought peace, tranquillity and serenity into our world. This peace is located in the hearts and souls of those who, in humble submission to His love, have surrendered their lusts for power and control and have given themselves over into His care. We can all think of people we have known who have done this, and I’m sure we will all recall the face of Mother Teresa of Calcutta to see that peace, and she by no means lived a comfortable and pain free life. The supreme example is, of course, our Blessed Mother who lived in profound peace and serenity amidst terrible pain, dislocation and turmoil. One has only to look under the surface to see just how much she had to endure. And yet she is the universally acknowledged Queen of Peace.
To say, as the second argument runs, that human behaviour hasn’t changed is to ignore the witness of the saints and the countless millions of Christians who have lived heroically decent, moral and upright lives. If Christians haven’t lived up to the teachings of Christ then it may be more accurate to say, as G. K. Chesterton wrote: Christianity has not failed; it simply has yet to be tried. So many people claim to be Christian, but fail to put their faith into practice in their daily lives. The joy that we share this morning is that for those who have heard God’s word and followed in the ways of Christ: a life of faith, hope and love in a violent, dark and abusive world is more than possible; it’s a life that millions do, in fact, live each and every day. And this is something that can fill us with joy, and which is why we are here this morning to celebrate the birth of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who made that a reality for us.
And to say that God is silent and absent is to say more about our own human indifference towards God than it is to say anything at all about God’s failure to be present to us. Just who has failed to be present to the other? God has tried, and tried repeatedly, to get our attention. If there has been a failure in communication then we should perhaps note first what we have done to many of God’s prophets, priests and messengers, and what we have done to His Son, before we indict God for failing to make Himself present to us.
In the Prologue to his Gospel Saint John tells us:
In the beginning was the Word:
the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things came to be,
not one thing had its being but through him.
All that came to be had life in him
and that life was the light of men,
a light that shines in the dark,
a light that darkness could not overpower.
That Word has become incarnate and has become our very own human flesh and blood, not by our desire, but by the free and loving will of God who has come to seek us out and sweep us up into His very own life.
And so we can join with the joyful message of the angels on that first Christmas night in announcing that God has so loved us that He would not leave us abandoned to our own sinful misery, but humbled himself, he lowered himself to sweep us up into His arms. And not only that, but he came to take on our humanity so we could take on His divinity and so remove us from all that imprisons us in the darkness of gloom and lack of hope.
May this joy and happiness be yours as we recall the awesome truth that He has become one with us, and will shortly be with us here and now on this very altar in His own Flesh and Blood. And may the power of that truth give you hope, good cheer and happiness both in this life and in the next.