'The people walking in darkness have seen a great light’ Isaiah 9:2
Walking around with a dog collar you get people coming up to you and saying all sorts. From slurs to people begging for help or asking deep questions and one such question I’ve had before, more than once, is “What’s so special about Christianity?” “Why should I be a Christian?” And I think they expect a real king of ‘Bible-Bashing,’ theological or academic answer but actually I say something really simple. Bear with me on this because this is a cheerful Christmas message, when people ask me why Christianity, I say: “Because Christianity is the only faith where God comes to us, and makes things right.” It’s not about following the rules or getting more good points than bad, it’s not about Karma or about being as holy as we can. It’s not a religion in which we try to imagine a loving God that expects us to do all the work and to be perfect, Christianity is the only religion in which God does the work, the only faith in which God makes us good again. And all we have to do is have faith in him. God loves you, he came to earth for you, and he died for you, so just have faith in him. That’s why Christianity, because I struggle with the idea of having faith in a God who is only ever somewhere else, I struggle with the idea of having a faith that requires it all to be on me because I know me and I know how badly I can mess up. Christianity isn’t rooted in our own ability, but in God’s. It’s not about faith in a God who is somewhere else but on faith in Immanuel which literally translates as ‘God with us.’ We are the people of the ‘God with us’ faith. That is why Christianity.
Outside those doors, it is dark and grim. It’s cold and, going through winter, it can be miserable. We all look forward to spring and that first bright, sunny day, whenever it will come. When that day comes you can tell there’s a change in the atmosphere in the people you meet, can’t you? People smile and look up a bit more and they stretch out their warming joints. Well that’s what the world was like before Christmas, before Jesus was born. There was a deep darkness and all the things that come with darkness. There was fear; there was cold and loneliness, a separation from God that couldn’t be overcome. And yet, even then, they looked forward with hope. Here, once more, are the words from Isaiah, written hundreds of years before Christ was born, as Isaiah looks forward with hope:
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
to us a Son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The hope in the darkness was that Jesus was coming. That God was coming to be with his people. It was like a light on the horizon. Like finally it was going to be okay. Like that, when Jesus came, they could finally have what we have in Jesus. They were looking forward to the day when they could be a part of the only faith where God comes to us and makes things right. They were waiting and hoping for what we have and what we celebrate this Christmas time. We forget all too easily that we live in the light of promises fulfilled! People were walking in darkness but we get to walk in light. God came and made things right with us. It may be physically dark and cold outside but we get to be ‘God with us’ people. So this Christmas, let us be filled with joy, that we get to live as God with us people.
But maybe that doesn’t ring true for you? Maybe you’re feeling a bit lonely this Christmas, maybe you’re sick. Maybe you’ve lost someone this year. It’s true that when you feel like everyone else is enjoying themselves and having a good time and you’re left out in the cold dark, you can feel like it’s not fair, it can be salt in the wound. I remember a couple of years ago when I was working for Church this woman came up to me and told me her story. She was from down south and her boyfriend had got her pregnant, she was 8 months gone but her parents didn’t want her to keep it so she’d been thrown out and her boyfriend had ran off. She was living in her car and using a friend’s shower and she was saying that she hated the fact it was Christmas and everyone else was enjoying themselves. But the pregnant woman I was talking to said, “but then, I suppose, she went through it too” as she nodded to a nativity scene, and Mary, who also had had nowhere to go, with her baby in the manger. Things were hard for that woman.
But the thing about God being with us, is that it doesn’t mean that bad things will never happen, it doesn’t mean that everything is always going to be good. There will still be hard times, there will still be pain and suffering until Christ comes again, God being with us doesn’t mean that the pain stops. It means that he’s with us through it all. That baby we remember today would grow up, he would suffer and struggle, he would mourn. So he knows what it feels like. The woman who was afraid and 8 months pregnant woman and her baby with nowhere to go, the refugee, the poor, he knows what it’s like. He’s with you, not in a star wars-y, ethereal, ‘the Force be with you’ way. Our God actually knows what it feels like to be in agony. Our God is with us. But even if you’re walking in the dark right now, we still have a hope for that next Christmas, when Jesus will come again, when all the pain will stop. The God who came and made things right is going to come and make things right in the other ways too. We still have hope. We can still know that, although we may be in darkness now, a light is coming once more and everything will be made right. This may not seem like the normal ‘cheery’ Christmas message, but if you think about it, it’s even better than that. The creator of the universe loved you enough to come to earth just for us, the ‘God with us’ people.
So, fellow ‘God with us’ people, Christians. Why don’t you go out and bring that hope, that joy, out into the world. Why don’t you think of someone you can tell about the hope and joy we’ve heard about today. Why don’t you go and tell them about our faith in which God came and made things right. Or if it’s your first time here, or if you’re still asking the questions, why not try putting your faith in the him. That’s all you need to do, he’s already done the rest, he came to earth as a helpless baby and grew up to be a human, he suffered and mourned and so is with us in the fullest sense. So you can put your faith in him and say yes to the prince of peace who was born this day. Amen (from Fr Jordan).