First Sunday of Christmas
Introduction and Call to Worship
We come together this Christmas season to worship God and to give thanks for our new life and hope through the birth of our saviour, Jesus Christ.
First Reading Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3
The prophet proclaims his vision of certain salvation and a great nation restored.
Second Reading Galatians 4:4-7
The Jews were slaves to the Law, but God sent Jesus to offer release from slavery.
Gospel Luke 2:15-21
News of Jesus’ birth is given first to lowly shepherds, who travel to Bethlehem to see the saviour for themselves and then spread the good news.
HOMILY “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” (Luke 2:15)
It is a week since Christmas Eve and our marathon of services and what a brilliant 24 hours that was as we celebrated together the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ with so many guests from the local community and beyond and of course our wonderful Church family. Amid the turkey and tinsel it is all too easy to forget the simplicity of that actual day when the Christ Child came among us in human flesh. Today’s Gospel reading with the visit of the Shepherds to worship at the manger throne reminds us that Jesus’ birth had deep foundations of humility. “If you plan to build a high house of virtues, you must first lay deep foundations of humility”, wrote the great Church theologian St Augustine, and our Lord’s arrival is certainly steeped in humility – no hospitals, fancy hotel rooms, palaces or staff. As the prophet described Bethlehem: “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.” (Micah 5:2) The prophecy is correct - this is a lowly stable and the opposite of a palace and Jesus’ parents are loyal and obedient to God’s revelation to them: Joseph taking Mary to be his wife and faithful young Mary who is the handmaid of the Lord – they are not at first glance obvious parents for the King of all time and eternity. They are chosen and obedient to God’s call. Are we?
Like the message of Angel Gabriel to Mary, the shepherds also hear from angels as they rejoice in the words we now sing as our Gloria at the news of the birth of Jesus - for Mary’s Son is a special and different king and his kingdom has no end. No wonder that following the Annunciation “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart”. (Luke 2:19) The shepherds, a humble group of men chosen by God, were the first to see the promised Messiah, and then no doubt spread the news of his birth. Yet they were unconventional visitors, poor men with a hard job and no doubt considered by more ‘respectable’ folk to be a bit on the edge, and potentially outside of the law, unwashed and unattractive. This understanding of them being ‘unclean’ was a direct result of their work. They may not always have been physically dirty, but their role as shepherds meant they were unable to rest on the sabbath.
Friends in faith, God’s invitation includes all people, and especially those who are humble, ignored and despised. Throughout the scriptures we read again and again of those blessed by God: beggars, sinners, prostitutes, even tax collectors and people struggling in so many ways. The greatest King of Israel’s history was David – a shepherd boy, described as ‘ruddy’. He would go on to lead a whole nation and Jesus was born into the Davidic line. Likewise, our Lord grew up to be counter cultural and draw those on the outside deep into the mystery of his kingdom. “Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind”, he instructed the disciples, “and you will be blessed”. (Luke 14:13-14)
This past week we have been about that same work drawing everyone and anyone into this wonderful house of prayer and celebration as we have tried to give people a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven through beautiful and inspired worship, and loving community and friendship. And God willing, some will return for more as we pray that the story of our Lord’s birth has touched hearts with faith.
We know this is possible – it is the reason that some people are sat here today, and it is how we see God in action in today’s Gospel as those humble shepherds were drawn into the salvation narrative to worship their saviour and in the process fulfilled Mary’s words from the Magnificat, that “he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things.” (Luke 1:52,53) Yes, those shepherds worship the birth of Christ in our place and they are filled with good things, including deep faith.
My question to us this morning is this: who are the humble shepherds today? Who do we think? Refugees, perhaps, or travellers? People on low incomes and split shifts or zero hours contracts? The shepherds and agricultural workers of today bussed in from various parts of Europe on a pittance? What about those with disabilities, learning difficulties, to whom others may find it hard to relate. Those who struggle with their mental health? What about you and me whose lives are far from perfect, but who strive to journey to the manger throne to worship the newborn king?
Our Lord’s very birth shows a pattern of humility to which we should all aspire. His teachings support this approach to faith – being the people that God has called us to be, being generous in our loving, giving and support of others. Being faithful in our worship. The scriptures remind us that God works quietly in understated ways through ordinary, humble, wonderful and special people – actually, like you, here faithfully for worship on this New Year’s Eve. You have made the journey to be here – so thank you. Whatever gifts and opportunities you have, however seemingly insignificant, God can, does and will magnify and use them for the building up of his Kingdom on earth, just as it is in heaven. He takes us as we are in all humility and shapes us into his kingdom people. How very exciting that is, to be a part of God’s plan for Thorpe and well beyond.
Using messengers, God announces his earthly reign to Mary and humble shepherds who go on to spread the Good News of the birth of the Word made flesh.
The Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth in a stable – the humblest of beginnings for such an eternal reign of love. Humility is at the heart of the Incarnation.
Jesus lived a ministry full of empathy and concern for those on the margins of society and encourages us to see the good in all people today. The humble and meek are blessed.
This festive season we have welcomed all sorts of people for worship, celebration and community. We pray that God has touched hearts with faith.