Luke 2:15-21 Galatians 4:4-7
First Sunday of Christmas
When I did history at school, we basically had to learn the facts: the most important names and dates to begin with, and then filling in the story from the evidence that was available. I always found that the story attached to names and dates was the most interesting part! Dates don’t mean a lot without them. For my final A-level project, I had to choose three subjects, one of which, I remember, was Julius Caesar. So, I delved into the accounts and wrote my piece according to the information that I found. I don’t remember much about the details, though; it’s too long ago! But, as some more recent TV documentaries have shown, history sometimes needs to be re-interpreted. Some of the so-called ‘facts’ have turned out to be myths, so the particular story needs to be re-written. Certain quotes, real or not, have come to lead a life of their own, irrespective of their context. For example: Julius Caesar’s ‘Et tu, Brutus!’ and Queen Marie-Antoinette’s ‘Let them eat cake!’. I think history is interesting as well as necessary. It helps us to interpret our present reality. The only problem with it is, that we don’t always learn from it, and repeat the same mistakes too often…
And so here we are, just after Christmas, a Christmas so different from the ones that went before that we may need some time to process it all. In that respect, there’s an awful lot to process this year! At the same time, I hope that we have added something to our collective history and memory that helps us see God. For ‘when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, if a child then also an heir, through God.’ These words that Paul wrote to the young churches of Galatia are to remind the Christians there that something has changed and why. Their past of living in the darkness without hope has been changed into a present and future of hope and light. Their history no longer defines them, their future does. The same goes for the shepherds in the story of Christmas: they saw the child that was lying in a manger. It changed their lives for ever. They didn’t keep the news to themselves either; they made it known to all who wanted to hear. The shepherds returned, it says in Luke 2, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
You may have found it difficult to see the good news of Christmas this year. But may I just remind you of the essence of the story of Christmas. We are not defined by what our history tells us about our past and present. Rather, we are defined by the gift of God’s Son.
So I’ll finish as I wrote in the parish magazine, referring to the Christmas carols:
The Christmas carols, whether we sing them this year or not, are telling that story, of Light, Love, Hope and a Future, to all. They are indeed tidings of comfort and joy, that ring out in the bleak mid-winter, that the One who was of the Father’s love begotten, the little Lord Jesus, laid down his sweet head in a manger. And while shepherds watched their flocks by night, the first Nowell the angels sang: hark! Amid the winter’s snow, joy to the world has come!
So come, all ye faithful, and let every heart prepare him room. For once in royal David’s city, stood a lowly cattle-shed, where the hopes and fears of all the years, are met in thee tonight. How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. As with gladness men of old did the guiding star behold, let us go to Bethlehem, to hear the herald angels sing: Glory to the new-born King, Peace on earth, and mercy mild. God rest you merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay, for Christ, the son of Mary, was born on Christmas Day.
All is calm, all is bright. Son of God, Love’s pure light, He come from the glory, he come from the glorious kingdom. O, may we keep and ponder in our mind God’s wondrous love in saving lost mankind. Glorious now, behold Him arise, King and God, and sacrifice. Heaven sings ‘Alleluia!’ ‘Alleluia!,’ the earth replies. This silent night, holy night, He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell: O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel. O star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright, guide us to thy perfect light. O tidings of comfort and joy!