Sermon 3rd December 2023

Texts: 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13: 24-end

I give thanks to my god always for you, because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him….so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1: 4-7

Today marks the start of Advent and because this year Christmas Day itself falls on a Monday it is only twenty- two days’ worth of penitential fasting or in reality is it more likely to be twenty -two days of frantic preparation as we make ready for the ‘Big Day.’? Already I have seen so many houses and whole towns lit up with often over the top glittering flashing light displays and oh my goodness it seems at times every aisle in our Supermarkets have been taken over by Christmas fare. Shelves stuffed with mince pies, puddings cakes as well as goodness knows how many specially created Christmas products and the necessities of life the milk and the bread almost squeezed out to make for all those products that someone in marketing has decided are the absolute must to ensure the most wonderful, better than ever before Christmas.

I am constantly being told by people that they have already put up the tree and their homes are now decorated from top to bottom; their presents are bought and wrapped and their Christmas food ordered and a delivery slot booked. And, if I am honest, I find all this quite disconcerting and indeed worrying. What is this festival we call Christmas all about? Is it about the birth of a child or is it simply some festival of mammon which demands from us the tribute of conspicuous, costly consumption?

Just where is Christ in all this and to stress my point how many Christmas cards have you seen with scenes of the nativity and a proper Christian message? Or is it all just robins and Santas, not Father Christmas please note, with it would now appear quite a lot of penguins thrown in.

And here is another question to which I do not know the answer and that is how many people in this country could accurately relate the story of Christ’s birth? I suspect sadly that a large percentage of the population would struggle to do so. And while there may be delightful nativity plays in primary schools they are so muddled now it would seem with extra characters such as, believe it or not, a raisin, a zebra , and apparently a belly dancer,( the mind boggles,) plus songs with titles such as Twinkle Town and Cheeky Cherubs that the miracle that is the truth at the heart of the story may be all too easily obscured. And as far as my limited research goes only approximately 2.4% of the UK’s population attended a Christmas service in 2022 which both shocked and surprised me. 2.4% who found time from all the razzmatazz of secular Christmas celebrations to attend church and kneel in wonder and humility at that rough hewn crib in a town of no importance to add their heart felt and joyous worship to that of the angels and shepherds as they bore witness to the unfathomable mystery of the incarnation of Christ, the birth of the Christ Child, the Saviour of our all too often sad and fallen world.

I think there can be no question that Christmas as a religious festival in our nation has been all but hijacked by the commercial world, but this said there are of course glimmers of sacred light

as compared to all those manufactured ones to remind us that if you look hard enough the Christ Child can still be found in so many unexpected places. Found in the Charity Appeals which are so generously responded to such as the 8 million raised by our National Press, the 2 million by the BBC and the 1.1 million raised for Great Ormond Street Hospital last year. Then there are as I know the vast quantities of gifts given in particular to paediatric hospital wards and of course on a more local level we can see for ourselves all the donations made to our local Food Bank. And then there are wonderful, selfless volunteers who will go and help provide a Christmas meal for the homeless and destitute and those individuals who seek out the elderly and the lonely to come and share a Christmas feast with them. And never forget our churches will be open to anyone who chooses to come maybe for the first time ever and there will be wonderful praise filled services often candlelit to welcome once again that helpless babe who is our Lord, our Saviour and our King.

But before then we have these three weeks and our gospel reading urges us to keep awake so that we will not miss the coming of that baby. Awake, properly awake to his presence not just on Christmas Day itself but in these coming three weeks for he is surely always in the midst of us, in the crowded supermarkets, the bustling streets and most of all if we are properly awake in our homes where if we allow him to do so he can be an integral part of our preparations. As we decorate, we can give thanks for all the beauty with which he ‘decorates’ our lives. When we wrap presents we can include a prayer for the recipient not just that they will like what we have chosen but that they and we ourselves will also know the true gift given to all God’s children at Christmas.’ The gift of pure love. And as we cook and fill our kitchens with delicious smells we can again pray for all those who will share the food with us and give thanks for those often in far off countries who have produced the food as well as remembering to give thanks for the food composed of that incomparable love, the bread , the wine which remind us of just how costly that love was. Quite simply let us be alert to the presence of the Christ wherever we are, whatever we are doing in the next twenty-two days and make sure that in the busyness, in the rush we do not forget or ignore that presence but make sure he is truly a part of all we are doing before we awake fully on Christmas morning to salute the happy morn whereon the Saviour of the World was born.

I would like to end with this prayer which I think would be such a good one to pray quietly and meaningfully as we wake each day of our Advent journey and ensure that we have put Christ at the very centre of our lives not just on Christmas Day itself but during all these days of preparation designed to make ourselves ready to humbly kneel and joyfully adore with the angels and shepherds.

Holy God, as I step into all that I have to do today, and over the days ahead, remind me that you are there with me, and that you desire to be a part of my everyday life. May I begin all things by focusing on you, to set the ground; may I continue through all things focused on you ensuring u are the centre of all I do; and may I end each task focused on you, knowing that I have completed it with you.

Advent Blessing: Hold your light out to the world and let people of all nations feel the warmth of God’s love as they encounter the Word made Flesh through Christ our Lord. Follow, where the Spirit of Hope leads us. Listen, as the Child of Peace cries for us. Rejoice, as the Love of God embraces us and let us go with Hope, Peace and Love in our hearts and the blessing of Creator, Child and Spirit for ever within us.

Rev’d Virginia Smith, 3rd December 2023

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