The Feast of Christmas - Reflection

'How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion.' Isaiah 52:7-8

'to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.And the Word became flesh and lived among us' John 1:12-14a

[The sermon from the First Mass of Christmas preached on Christmas Eve] What have you been waiting for? This being Christmas Eve, no doubt there has been a fair bit of waiting for presents. The treasures wrapped and placed under the tree, out-of-bounds until the morning. Or perhaps you’ve been waiting to see family. To be reunited with parents, grandparents, old friends and relations after the lockdown. Perhaps you’ve been simply waiting for a break! After a lengthy school term and the increased busyness up until the Christmas bank holidays, perhaps you’ve been waiting for a well-earned rest. We do an awful lot of waiting for Christmas. We even have calendars – chocolate, bible-versed, or pictured – to help us wait. To help us count down the days until tomorrow morning. Christmas brings with it an awful lot of waiting.

And the passage we had read to us - from the prophecy of Isaiah - is a story of those who are also waiting. Not just one or two people, but a whole city. This city is the last stronghold of a people, who have been practically wiped out. The city is in ruins, the walls crumbling, the gates broken down, and the people in despair. And they are waiting, because the last remnants of their army has gone to war against their enemy. They are waiting for the news of the battle which must now have taken place. Soon, someone will come over the horizon. But who will it be? Enemy, or friend? An enemy which has already won all the other battles, come to destroy them. Or a friend, come to bring the amazing - if unlikely - news of victory. What news will come? News of victory or defeat! Of life or death! But this city is no ordinary city. This city is Jerusalem - the city of the people of God - and the battle of which they await news, is not a battle just over land, or cattle, money, or military might. No, this battle is between Good and Evil. Between God, and those who oppose Him. And so the news this city is waiting for, is not just news of another military escapade, but about a battle which is between Good and Evil. Between God and those who oppose Him. And this waiting is told from two perspectives, from two points of view.

First, from the point of view of the watchmen, from those manning the highest towers staring off into the distance. And second, from the point of view of the inhabitants, those down on the ground, going about their day to day lives, and worrying about the future. First, the watchmen. Those stationed in high positions. What are they waiting for? They are waiting, they are watching for any movement on the horizon, any sign that someone is coming. They strain their eyes, they strain their necks, watching and waiting. And now - just now - they glimpse a figure in the distance. They see a man running, far off, but it seems, he is not just running, no, he is also dancing!!! They strain their eyes, their ears prick up trying to hear this man’s song. They see it is a messenger, but a messenger from whom? Their enemy? Their friend? Is this message good news or bad news? … And they cannot believe it! As the man inches closer, they recognise the uniform as one of their own. And someone wearing their uniform, one of their own running and skipping, jumping and dancing, tells them all they need to know. This messenger is a friend and he comes with good news. 

‘How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”’

And all at once - as if guided by a conductor - the watchmen start shouting for joy, they start singing victory songs. Now the perspective of our story changes. The view shifts from the watchmen, down to the people. The people who are hiding. Who fear the worst. Who have been trampled on before, and fear being trampled on again. What are they waiting for? They are waiting for salvation! And Isaiah says, ‘Listen’.

Listen! How tempted we are  not to do that any more. How easy it is to get busy buying the presents, finishing that project at work, tidying up the house, settling the kids. At Christmas especially, there is rarely any time for listening. But says Isaiah: ‘Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.’ ‘Can you hear them’, says Isaiah. ‘You don’t need to worry any more. You don’t need to be concerned about God being defeated. You don’t need to worry about your lives being cut short. Your homes being desolated. Your children enslaved. Listen to the watchmen! God has won, and God is coming!’

Well, skip forward to the New Testament and listen to a man who is like one of those watchmen. This watchman’s name is John, and he writes this: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.’ John has been watching and waiting. But now John cries out: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.’ God has come! God has come Himself as a little baby! Victory is secure. The waiting is still taking place, sure but the waiting has changed. No longer are we waiting to find out if God showed up. We know that He did. Now we are waiting for God - for the victor - to arrive back in our city, back in our town, to arrive here in Chorley, and throughout the world. We are waiting for God to arrive, and when he does, we will have the most amazing celebration. That is what John was proclaiming all those years ago when he wrote his Gospel. Watchman John lifted up his voice, and shouted for joy. That is what was being proclaimed when the Gospel was read just now: the good news that God has come! So are we listening? You see we are not one of those watchmen. We did not see Jesus, God come as man, face to face. No, we are still in the ruined city of the world, we are still waiting. But tonight we have heard the: ‘watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy’. And therefore, our waiting should have changed. Changed from those who are unsure - from those who do not know the outcome in the battle between Good and Evil- to those who are sure. God has won and is returning. 

This news, this good news, this Gospel news, is why John wrote his book, and it is the message that that book contains. The first 14 verses - which we had read to us just now - contain the whole Gospel in miniature. Good news which begins, by God coming as a baby that first Christmas: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. Before John goes much further, he turns to the people in the city - to the people who are worrying about their lives, to the people who are busy with Christmas, busy with work busy with their relations - and to those who are listening, he says this: ‘to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, [Jesus] gave the right to become children of God’. We know who has won! We know Good has defeated Evil! We know God has defeated all that oppose Him. And John the watchman - in his cries of delight - turns to those who have NOT yet seen what he has seen, and says to the waiting city, says to the waiting world, says to you and to me, ‘God is coming in great victory… quickly make your decision. Which side will you choose: Good or Evil? Whose side will you pick: God or those who oppose Him’. For God says that: ‘to all who [do] receive [Jesus], to those who believe in his name, he [gives] the right to become children of God.’ So what are you waiting for?

I don’t know what it is  - deep below the surface, far beneath the busyness of your daily life - that you are really waiting and hoping for. Maybe you’re waiting for someone who won’t let you down. Someone whom you won’t have to forgive, because - unlike every other person you know - they won’t hurt you. Someone who you don’t have to “be realistic” with; someone who doesn’t have ulterior motives; someone who only ever rejoices loves, supports and cares for you. Maybe you’re waiting for some rest. Rest from the busy strangeness of life. Where we get up and go to our job and work and work come home and sleep and then do it all again. Maybe you’re waiting for the end of the political discourse in which the weakest are criticised, the helpless persecuted, the immigrant and foreigner shrouded in suspicion, and the needy cast as the bad guys. Maybe you’re waiting for the end of this cursed virus, waiting for a time when you’ll be able to hug your mum, and cuddle your grandkids, when you’ll be able to travel to see friends, and go into town without having to wear a mask! Maybe you’re waiting to be forgiven; to be loved, to be encouraged and supported, cherished and nurtured, by someone who never fails, whose attention never wanders, who never puts conditions on their affections. I don’t know what it is that you have been waiting for. But I do know that each of us - deep down, below the surface - has been waiting for much - much more than we let ourselves admit. We’re longing and hoping for, something that - to be honest - is a bit indistinct. We don’t quite know what it is we’re longing for, but deep down, we are longing and yearning and waiting nonetheless. The morning of Christmas breaks and the watchmen declare to all of us: this is the One you’ve been waiting for. This One, Jesus, is the one who will never let you down; whose love will never fail; who has no ulterior motive. The One who changes the way those who love Him, do politics, work, life and love: indeed changes their whole lives. This is the One who gives to those who believe in Him rest, and courage, and hope. The One who forgives so freely that those of us who know what it feels like to be forgiven by him can’t get over it. This is the One you’ve been waiting for.

‘The Word [who] became flesh [who] made his dwelling among us. [And] to all who [DO] receive him, to those who [DO] believe in his name, he [gives] the right to become children of God.’

So what are you waiting for? The truth is you have been waiting for Jesus your whole life. And he’s here now. And that changes everything. Merry Christmas. Amen (from Rev. Mike).