Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff


Thursday 24th December (Christmas Eve Midnight Service)

Lord, you see us as we are.  Breathe into our minds and hearts the passion of your love.

 Do you know why it is that in Scotland, the main festivities of the season still tend to centre around Hogmanay – seeing in the New Year - rather than Christmas Day?  It’s a legacy from a time when Christmas was abolished by the Puritans who were troubled both by the boisterous nature of the festivities and by what they considered to be the association of what took place at Christmas with the old Roman Catholic and pagan faiths. 

 It didn’t take long for the people south of the border to resume their celebrations following the restoration of the monarchy and the reintroduction of Christmas in 1660. But the Church in Scotland, due largely to the puritan influence of the Presbyterian Church continued to observe Christmas ‘very quietly’ for far longer.

 In fact, Christmas Day didn’t become a public holiday in Scotland for another 300 years - until 1958, and Boxing Day not until 1974. 

Things have changed since the 1980s with the fading of the Church's influence and with the increased influences from the rest of the UK and elsewhere, Christmas and its related festivities are now nearly on a par with Hogmanay.

 So should the festivities – the feasting and general indulgence and the present buying and razamataz – be something we do at Christmas or should we somehow separate it all from the real meaning of Christmas - the birth of our saviour? 

 Although I suppose, to a great extent that’s already happened.  To many there is no association at all between them.  I recently saw a sketch of Santa kneeling at the manger saying ‘Jesus, I’m so sorry that I’ve stolen your birthday’.

 Christians are sometimes accused of being naïve for believing in the Christmas story with its virgin birth and God being born in a stable and laid in a manger.  Some pretty nativity settings with their squeaky clean animals and freshly smelling hay; Mary looking serene with a halo of light around her head, despite having just given birth in a stable, don’t do a lot to dispel the claim.

 But surely the real naivety lies in being conned by adverts into thinking that a perfect Christmas can be achieved by buying their product or using their brand.

 In the world of advertising the Christmas story would probably end with the shepherds disappearing into the sunrise and everybody living happily ever after. 

 But that is not Christmas – and it’s not what Christians believe is it?  In the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury  ‘Jesus came into the reality of the world to transform that reality’ he didn’t come to take us out of it into some fantasy land, but to bring good news of great joy to all people.

 It’s good news because Jesus breaks in, not to help us escape, but to take hold of and transform our past, our present and our future - to be ‘Emmanuel’ God with us.

 He has the power to transform our lives and enable us to live, not free from fear, because we shall always have fearful times, but free of being controlled by our fear and able to find new hope out of our suffering. 

 That is good news – it is news that says to us first of all that we are loved – without condition, without limit, beyond measure ..... and that love is the light shining in the darkness, a light that darkness could not overcome, a light that will never be put out ..... even when in our despair and our suffering we don’t see anything but black. 

 Our lives are precious to God and his love is eternal.  At Christmas, the word made flesh in Jesus says ‘I am for you’. 

 His coming brings forgiveness and new life, eternal life and if Jesus can be laid in a manger then there is nowhere that is not fitting for him to come, no person who is unfit to receive him.

 John’s gospel tells us ‘He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God ........

 Jesus is God’s gift to a broken world, a saviour who, through his victory on the cross, rescued us and restored our relationship with God. 

 The gift is for everybody and the work of Jesus is complete.

 All we have to do is accept the gift.  When we do, God’s Holy Spirit will abide in us.  Abide means to stay with, to remain, to wait patiently for ... it doesn’t mean to manipulate, to force or to overrule.

 Again I quote Justin Welby who says ‘Jesus comes as a baby – this baby is love so fierce it changes universes, love so gentle that the weakest is free to choose.

 So what Christians really believe is that "God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  This baby lying in a manger is God incarnate who has come to rescue and reclaim his creation.

 So how do we square our belief in this wondrous truth and the quiet, humble manner in which it took place, with all the consumerism and craziness that takes place around Christmas?

 Well, St Paul in his letter to the Galatians, takes them to task – in The Message translation he calls them crazy - for trying by their own efforts to complete what was begun by God.  He tells them that ‘doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you.’ 

 In other words when we become so busy and our lives so full of ‘doing’ that there is no room for God, then even if we believe we are doing things for God he can’t be part of it – there is no room for him ..... just as there was no room for him in Bethlehem.

 Does that mean we don’t do any work for God at all?  No, because Jesus wants us to be his body here on earth, each of us with our own unique place and purpose, working toward the coming of God’s kingdom.

 But unless we allow ourselves time to spend with him in quietness and prayer, in listening and seeking then he won’t be able to lead and guide, prompt and block and we will wear ourselves out ‘doing’ things for God, when what we are really doing is what we think should be done and God, as the saying goes, doesn’t actually get a look in.

 So when it comes to Christmas, then it’s pointless to try to ban it as Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans did ..... they didn’t actually meet with overwhelming success, even before Charles II returned to the throne.  How can we not get caught up in it all – and would we really want to? 

 The tree, the decorations, the desire to make people happy with the presents we give them ...... and bear in mind that Jesus himself loved to eat and drink and be invited into people’s homes ..... his first miracle was changing water into the finest wine, and not just a bottle or two but gallons of it  ..... Jesus doesn’t begrudge us any of it .... all he asks is that we keep him at the centre of it all – not just at Christmas but the centre of everything we do, every day so that he can continue to draw people to him, to his love, his compassion, his salvation.

 Let’s begin now – as we light his candle and usher in his birthday – let’s promise him that He will be the very centre of our lives and that even when there are so many things that need to be done and the Martha in our head is telling us we haven’t got time to pray we need to get on with it, that we will find time, as Mary did, to sit at his feet and listen to his teaching so that he may be reflected in our every thought, word and deed.