Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Unexpected Result - our Christmas Day Celebration

Our Christmas service followed on from our Advent theme and focused on the Unexpectedness of Christmas, and in particular, the Unexpected Result of Christmas.

Christmas Greetings

597      O come all ye faithful

The Unexpected Result – our Christmas Candle

Lighting the Christmas Candle

We light our Christmas candle
And think of the unexpected result
Of the birth of a baby who grew to a man
Who would have thought it
For the one born to be King?
No life of regal splendour
But a life lived with those no one else
Had time for.
A life lived for other people.
A life that seemingly ended in tragedy
Yet opened up life in all its fullness
For all of us to share.

John 1:1-5 and 14 – the Congregation

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him;
and without him was not any thing made that was made.
In him was life;
and the life was the light of men.
And the light shineth in darkness;
and the darkness comprehended it not.
And the Word was made flesh,
and dwelt among us,
and we beheld his glory,
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,
full of grace and truth.

Reading:  Luke 2:1-7 – Pete

At that time the Emperor Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 When this first census took place, Quirinius was the governor of Syria. 3 Everyone, then, went to register himself, each to his own town.
4 Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the town of Bethlehem in Judea, the birthplace of King David. Joseph went there because he was a descendant of David. 5 He went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant, 6 and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. 7 She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger — there was no room for them to stay in the inn.

A New Nativity by Alan Tichmarsh – Caroline

A New Nativity.
by Alan Titchmarsh.
When all those long, long years ago a child came down to earth below,
To save the likes of you and me from evil, harm and misery,
Do you suppose that even then, there were some doubting, heedless men
Who, rather than believe the word, just turned their backs and never heard?

You see, today we all recall, the baby in the ox's stall.
The ass, the stables, shepherds, Kings, - all ancient, rural, rustic things.
But what if, here, this very night, it happened....on the Isle of Wight
Would we rejoice and all be merry? Would we dash off and catch the ferry?

If Christ was born in Walthamstow, would builders drop there tools and go?
Would Wapping printers stop their presses?  Would supermodels ditch their dresses?

In Hampshire and in rural Kent, would shepherds, by an angel sent
Walk miles to see a newborn child, whose mother, unmarried, although mild
Had given birth to a baby boy, not at the Dorchester or Savoy,
But in a garage, there's the rub, round the back of the local pub.

And yet I like to think that we, despite the e-mail and DVD
Would know to go, when star shone bright, and make that journey through the night
To see the child who saves the world, in some old oil drum safely curled.
The nativity for the Millenium.  Would anyone out there like to come?

72        Away in a manger

Unexpected Presents

Greeting from Stefan and Birgit

Christmas Greetings

Sermon – The Unexpected Result

When the unexpected happens it can fill you with fear and trepidation, it can be pretty scary.

Mary did not expect to be expecting a baby: she was frightened.

Joseph did not expect to take on the responsibility of a father: it was scary.

Joseph and Mary did not expect to have to make the long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem: it was frightening

Joseph and Mary did not expect to have to make do with the squalor of an unexpected stable: it filled them with fear

The Wise Men did not expect to have to take special measures to avoid the clutches of a King Herod determined to do away with the Christ child: Herod’s power and his abuse of power was terrifying

Mary and Joseph did not expect to have to flee south from Bethlehem and escape across the border to become refugees in Egypt for a matter of years.  It was a frightening time.

Think back a year to the last Christmas and in that time unexpected things have happened … not a few of them have been pretty scary.

A year ago who  would have expected the Arab Spring to have happened?  Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria – democracy coming to countries over-run by dictatorship.  But it has been a time filled with fear for Christian communities throughout the middle east.  Prayer requests come from so many Christians in each of those countries who are facing persecution in a way they have not faced before.

And then things that have happened very much closer to home – someone taken ill: I wasn’t expecting that.  Uncertainties at work, issues in the home, someone very close who has died.  I wasn’t expecting that to happen.

How do you cope with the unexpected that is so scary and troubling?

Two thoughts contained in two words that for me are particularly special this Christmas.

Of all the words I associate with Christmas, of all the words that crop up in the Christmas story, there is one long word that I want to hold on to.  It seems to me to be the word that speaks directly into all the fears that come when the unexpected happens.

It is the word, Emmanuel.

It sounds like a name.  But it is a name with meaning.  And it s the meaning of the name that is all important in the face of the unexpected.

Emmanuel means ‘God is with us’.

That’s not just a conviction to hold on to in the face of everything that goes wrong.  The point of Christmas is that it is a reality that is there, come what may, even when we feel it not to be so.

God is with us.  That’s what comes across in the prayer letters that come from the Middle East – it is the promise that shines out of the Christmas letter from Alex Awad and his congregation in East Jerusalem and his college in Bethlehem.  It is what shines out in the prayer letters that I receive from Middle East Concern.

God is with us.

How can we know that to be true?

That’s where my second word comes into play.  It’s my favourite word.  The word ‘serendipity’.  The joy of discovering the unexpected unexpectedly.   The Christmas story is full of serendipitous moments.  Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, the Shepherds – they all were in totally frightening situations.  But in the fear, quite unexpectedly, they had a sense of the reality of God with them, the reality that God is with us.  Wonderful, serendipitous, God moments.

When I wrote about my favourite word in Highbury News I had a response from Peter Petrie, one of our evening congregation.  He had been digging into the derivation of the word ‘serendipity’.  It was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754 when he recounted a tale form the East of the Three Princes of Serendip,  Serendip the land once known as Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka.   On their travels, Horace Walpole recounts, the three princes were always making discoveries, by accident and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.

What fascinated Peter was the number of scientific discoveries that have been made as a result of ‘serendipity’.  Indeed it is a commonplace term in the history of science.  Maybe a Christmas quiz is to list scientific discoveries made unexpectedly.   You might include penicillin, the microwave oven, Teflon!

The point Peter made in his email to me, however, was an interesting one.  Though they appear to have been discoveries made by accident.  Something else was involved as well.  Each of the people responsible had the wisdom to recognise that something special had happened.

Serendipitous things happen and you have the joy of discovering the unexpected unexpectedly when ‘accident and sagacity’ are both involved.  Chance and wisdom.

That’s the other observation I want to make for Christmas.  Maybe the Christmas story should encourage us to seek the kind of wisdom that will recognise the God moment when it comes.  And that is something we can work at.

Putting yourself in a position where you are exposed to thinking about God, thoughts of God, in the pages of the Bible.  Prayer and praying have their part to play – those Christians facing persecution in the Middle East share that with us constantly, I pray for you each night, was said to me only on Friday, by someone who is not able to get out and do a great deal – but it meant the world to me as they shared that thought.  It reminds me to look out for the God moment that comes unexpectedly.

One other thing – it is as we step out of a concern simply for ourselves and step into a concern for other people that maybe, we shall encounter God unawares.  To love another person is to see the face of God.

From the squalor of a borrowed stable

Prayers of Concern

85        Good Christians all rejoice

Words of Blessing

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