Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Christmas Message

Luke 2:34-35
Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Our sanctuaries are busy this time of year - Carol Services, Longest Night Services, School Assemblies and soon there will be Watchnight and Christmas Day worship. A refrain I've heard a lot this week is: "If only it could be like this all year round!" 
Do we really want the frenzy of often forced joy with lots of strangers to be the norm that inhabits our worship space?
Do we want the often superficial greetings exchanged to be what characterises our time together in communal worship of the baby God, whose life as an adult impacts us not at all the rest of the year?
Do we want to keep on proclaiming a dumbed down, watered down version of God's story that appeals to the crowds all the year round in an attempt to woo folk back to worship?
What then, when "the season of goodwill" has passed - and hardship and difficulty must be faced? How has our seasonal worship of a baby prepared us for that? How has it helped build resilience or fostered trust enough to seek out those who care? Where is the space for doubt and sorrow, for anger and fear in the sanitised worship of a baby God so far removed from the world into which Christ was born?
And how, in sanctuaries filled with folk looking for something that neither challenges nor convicts, will we rediscover the urgency of the gospel that is for all the world when we've even forgotten how to nurture faith that makes a difference in those who come?
God is reshaping the church. Declining numbers in worship challenge and confront us to discover what God is about and begin to discern, individually and corporately, God's invitation to be part of that reshaping, to be part of God's mission in the world, beginning with the communities we serve.
Of course we can make an attempt to reach the Christmas revellers with the heart of the gospel but we'd probably be accused of being killjoys. 
Who wants to hear about fear and oppression and political unrest and hardship and poverty, about the slaughter of innocents, about refugees, about vilification and tyranny and corrupt government...
All contained within the Chrsitmas story.
Not the things we want to focus on in our Christmas Carol Services and Nativity plays.
And yet...
Much more akin to the world around us today.
Much more in keeping with what we read in our daily newspapers or watch on our television screens in our nightly news bulletins.
Perhaps we need the escape just for a while - to flirt with joy and wonder and angels and shepherds.
But let's not long for that all the year round.
Christ was born into a world much like this.
To challenge and confront.
To proclaim, through living and dying and rising again, that the world can be different.
And to call us to work alongside him in not just proclaiming a new kingdom but in working to build that kingdom now.
Now who wants to hear the Christmas message?

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