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 2004, by David Gill. The scripture readings that day were Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 3:4-7 and St John 1:1-14.
My sermon today will be short.
Because Christmas is not primarily a day for talking -- or for listening to someone else talk.
No, Christmas is a day for wondering … for marveling … for rejoicing … for worshipping … for joining our voices with the songs of the angels.
For on this day we ponder, again, the mystery of the ages. The mystery of “emmanuel” – which means “God with us”. The mystery of a God who so loved the world that he gave his only son. The mystery of a God who so loves us that he has become one with us.
On this holy day of Christmas, eternity enters time. On this day, light shines in the darkness. On this day, God is born among us.
And from this day, for those with the eyes to see, nothing can ever be quite the same again.
This morning we are remembering the stories of Christmas. Wonderful stories, all of them. But it’s not the birth stories that make the baby of Bethlehem so extraordinary. It’s not the angels, the shepherds, the wise men, the star. They are just the wrapping paper.
And it’s certainly not Santa Claus, “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and all the other nonsense which, sadly, many people imagine is what Christmas is all about.
No, what makes this birth extraordinary is the extraordinary life that is to follow. A life of compassion, of self-giving love, of solidarity with the poor and forgotten. A life that ends with an execution yet somehow doesn’t end there at all. A life that, Christians claim, reveals the heart of God, and thus shows us for all time the way things really are.
What does it show us?
Simply, staggeringly, this. That the impenetrable silence that surrounds us, the vast mystery that embraces us, is love beyond anything mortals could create or imagine. Love without limit. Love without end. Love that is unearned, unearnable. Love that has within it the ever-present possibility of forgiveness and new beginnings. Love that goes to a cross – and beyond – for the likes of you and me.
That is the heart of God. That is the ultimate reality. That is the way things really are.
And that is why, after this day, nothing can ever be quite the same again. “What has come into being in him was life,” says St John’s gospel, “and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it”.
The darkness did not. And the darkness never will.
Nor will anything else. Ever. For now we know that, come what may, there is light in the darkness, there is love in the loneliness, there is grace in the emptiness, there is meaning in the madness.
And there is a home, in the heart of God. For you. For me. For a wandering world whose destiny lies waiting in a stable in Bethlehem.
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!
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A radio talk by David Gill, delivered as the "Thought for the Week" programme on Hong Kong's RTHK on 12 December 2004
Good morning. I’m David Gill.
Less than two weeks to go. Christmas is almost upon us. And the churches are making their annual attempt to disentangle the celebration of Christ’s birth from the rampant paganism that’s otherwise known as the festive season.
A few years back, the December 25th programs of a leading Australian television channel featured a comedy, “The Nanny Christmas Special”. Not to be missed, said the TV guide. The promo explained why, and I quote. “Fran (the leading character) travels to the North Pole. She flirts with Santa, sings with elves, battles an evil princess and” – wait for it – “teaches everyone the true meaning of Christmas.”
Forgive me, Channel Ten, but I gave it a miss. So that year I was left pondering the significance of Christ’s birth unenlightened by Fran’s polar pilgrimage, her flirtations with Santa, her elfin singing and her brawl with an ethically challenged royal.
Australia isn’t alone. Hong Kong too is currently crawling with Santas, sprouting phony Christmas trees, being seduced by shopping mall musak. The distortion has gone global.
No wonder one of my friends says the Church’s seasonal prayer should be “Forgive us our Christmases, as we forgive those who Christmas against us”.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with having fun. The problem for the Church is, all this tinseled triviality distorts beyond recognition what the celebration supposedly is all about. Grace gets swamped by schmalz. Joy is reduced to partying. Christmas becomes a cliché.
Contrast the heart-stopping, history bending claim of the Christian faith: that the impenetrable silence that surrounds us, the vast mystery that embraces us, is love beyond anything mortals could create or imagine, love we have glimpsed in the child of Bethlehem, love that goes to a cross and beyond for the likes of you and me.
If only we could find the words to say it. So many young people run for cover from religion and all its works. Yet they continue to yearn for light in the darkness, love in the loneliness, grace in the emptiness, meaning in the madness. Our churches, meanwhile, remain the improbable trustees of a vast treasure trove of faith and wisdom, of meaning and sanctity, of light and love.
But then, maybe it’s not words that young Hong Kong needs right now. “Don’t tell me – show me!” warbled a song that was on the charts a few years back. Good advice for Christians. The Word, after all, became flesh, not words. Incarnation is the name of the game.
The churches, together, seeking to embody more credibly their gospel of amazing grace. It is a tantalizing vision, as well as a profoundly evangelical one. If only our churches could get their ecumenical act together.
Certainly the people of Hong Kong deserve better than the tinseled travesty that at this time of the year masquerades as Christianity.
So, my friend, why not push the tinsel aside this morning? Go along to your local church. Sing the praise of God. And be thankful that all the world’s nonsense cannot change the fact that Christ the saviour, Christ your saviour, is coming.