A sermon preached at a joint service of Kowloon Union Church and the Korean and Cantonese-speaking congregations of the Love and Truth Christian Church, on Christmas Day, 2003, by David Gill. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 52:7-10, Titus 3:4-7 and St John 1:1-14.
“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day … a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord”
“Good news of great joy”. That was what Christmas meant to the men and women of the biblical story, long centuries ago.
Joy, though the baby was so small, so weak, so insignificant.
Joy, though most of those involved had no money, no comfort, no security.
Joy, though powerful people of the land were against them.
Joy, though the rest of world neither knew nor cared about just one more child.
Why, then, the great joy? Why?
Because here, they believed, was the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord.
Here was the God they yearned for, the God they had awaited so long.
Here was the Mystery of the ages, broken open before their eyes.
Think about that word: “joy”.
Not shallow cheerfulness, something we stir up for ourselves.
Not false frivolity, that dies as soon as the party is over.
But joy. Deep, dark, enduring joy.
Something that comes from beyond ourselves; that remains through good times and bad; that endures all things.
Something that doesn’t ask us to play games; to pretend to certainties we don’t possess; to play at being jolly when we’re not.
Something that’s authentic because it is grounded in the truth, in the way things really are.
But take care. The joy of Christmas involves far more than the familiar heart-warming stories of Christ’s birth. For, as a great Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, used to warn: unless you have gazed on the cross of Calvary, you cannot understand the babe of Bethlehem.
This child is born for us. This child will live for us. This child will suffer and die for us. This child will rise for us in glory.
In Christ, the self-giving love of God is for us. Now. Today. Through all our days, and even -- and most especially -- in the darkest of our nights.
God cares, God loves, God understands, God forgives, God heals, God makes life new – and all for us, though we may not know it or even care about it, though we never deserve it, though we barely comprehend it.
God is for us. For each and every one of us, with no exceptions.
Which, my friend, includes you. Today, the great joy of Christmas is a gift that bears your name.
But a gift must be opened. To find out what is inside, you have to remove the ribbons, take off the paper, tear open the package. Lots of people are doing that, today, with gifts that were bought in shops.
If you received a Christmas gift of great value, of great beauty, something that would transform your life -- and if you didn’t even bother to open the package, if you just put it in the corner and ignored it – then, let’s face it, you would be a bit stupid.
That’s the mistake so many people make with God’s great Christmas gift. They don’t bother to find out what it means. They leave the ribbons on, the paper undisturbed, the package unopened.
And the great treasure of the gospel remains hidden from their eyes. Oh they may think they know what Christianity is all about. But usually they have no idea of the gift that awaits their discovery. For there is so much more to the Christian faith than most people, even most Christians, begin to realize.
So do not stop at unwrapping the gifts bought in the shops! On this day of Christmas, above everything else, focus your attention on the gift that comes from above. Contemplate again the limitless generosity of our self-giving God, the amazing grace of One who so loved the world that he gave his only son.
Tear open the package! Glimpse anew the wonder of God’s love! Receive afresh the strange gift of joy!
And hear again the angels sing!
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