Given by Jeff at Gordon Chapel 25 Dec 17
We’ve just heard part of John’s Gospel and this – this is John’s Christmas. There’s no incarnation, no manger, no shepherds, no angels, no Magi. John’s story is different from the others. Here, the Word of God became flesh and lived among us. God takes off all his glory, pitches his tent among us, gets down on the floor, puts his arms around us – and in that still small voice says – “It’s OK. I’m with you. I’m one of you now. Come, follow me, and I’ll take you home.”
Have you seen the new film Paddington Bear 2? It’s very cleverly made and will bring pleasure to many – young ones meeting Paddington for the first time and those who remember him from childhood.
Paddington Bear is probably one of the best Christmas presents or marketing tools, that British Rail could have wished for. But we overlook the fact that he got lost, travelled without a ticket, didn’t have a passport, only had a marmalade sandwich to sustain him, and being from darkest Peru, was an illegal immigrant. However, he had a label. We have a label too – ours says ‘belongs to Jesus Christ’ – can others read that label on you, and in you?
Paddington’s label said ‘please look after this bear’. So someone cared and secured a passage for the bear – sort of trafficked him to the UK, where he found himself homeless at a major railway station in London. He was lucky, of course – the Brown family met and adopted him.
Sadly, refugees and trafficking are a major problem – we just don’t know who we are going to meet – but one thing’s for sure – we have to keep in mind – ‘what we do for the least of these, we do for Christ’ – is He waiting for us in London, Glasgow, Fochabers or anywhere else?
Some of my clergy friends were at Kings Cross when they were approached by a young lady – she was desperate for accommodation for the night – a nearby hostel would only cost £18. Obviously my friends didn’t know the circumstances – she seemed genuine, well spoken, clean and didn’t appear to be under the influence of drink or drugs. They gave her £20 and she seemed surprised but very, very grateful, as if they had saved her life. Perhaps they had! Or perhaps they’d been conned – they’ll never know. But it was only £20 and if it really helped, then that’s what matters. Perhaps their kindness was more important than money, and had far reaching effects on that girls life.
What is interesting is that in everyday life we are surrounded by a mixture of fiction and reality, truth and falsehood, action and inaction. I think that the media affects us, and our world more than we know.
Because the fictional Paddington Bear is cute and cuddly, he meets new friends who adopt him, and give and receive love thereafter. But that’s not everyone else’s experience in real life.
Over 2000 years ago a family turned up in a busy town and were directed to a stable where a child was born and we celebrate that today.
In this linking of a children’s story, a bible story and recent events in our world, there are basic truths.
Firstly, the truth is in how we should behave if faced with someone in need. It’s to do what we can and if necessary to call for help from those better equipped to do something. Remember the Good Samaritan!
We are called to minister to people, to help and support them, to give our time and money. It’s what we ought to do. And of course, many of us do that, individually and as the church. Obviously it matters what we give, but on another level, it doesn’t – it is the act of giving that counts.
At Christmas, when someone gives us more smellies, we may say, ‘Crikey – do I really need it”? or perhaps ‘it’s the thought that counts’. That may be so, but in real life, it’s not the thought that counts – it’s the deed. Just thinking about giving, never clothed or fed them. It won’t even yield a marmalade sandwich. So we ought to give of ourselves, our money and care – we just should.
And the truth behind the fiction of Paddington Bear reveals that not only should we be generous, we want to be, we need to be. There is something deep down in us, that is loving and generous.
Many speak about our animal nature, that we are selfish, greedy, violent, tribal, and so forth. And there’s plenty of evidence to support this claim – when we see some of the barbaric things done by humanity, it can make us despair.
But, our faith makes a difference. That’s what Christmas is about – Jesus was born at Christmas – to deal with our sinful nature at Easter. We cannot separate the crib and the cross.
The media seems to prefer the other side of life – sin and sorrow, it’s more profitable but it’s like something out of a Dr Who episode, where an alien entity feeds off misery and grows on evil actions.
And rarely do we hear enough of humanity’s capacity to do good, to help each other, to try to make a better world. Many, many people are engaged in that, yet it’s so often ignored by the media. But it’s actually the human default position – and if our news is full of the bad stuff it is because that’s the exception. There are more good people than the other kind. Mothers loving their children, neighbours looking after each other, people giving to charities, these are the things we do. It’s in our nature.
There are those who think that other people whom we don’t know, especially foreigners, are not worth anything. It’s a secular agenda that is invidious, dishonest and inhuman. Perhaps views are coloured, and prejudices enhanced by what we see in the media. But, God calls us to remember Leviticus 19:33 “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt”.
One of the latest examples of mankinds inhumanity is what appears to be ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Myanmar (we know it better as Burma) – such cruelty we find hard to understand. But there is hope – Bangladesh, itself with major problems, is taking in those refugees, thus giving us all time to send aid and let them know we care.
In such terrible times, we should remind ourselves of our ability and nature to do good, and be good to others. We should allow our inherently good-natured selves, not only capable of love, generosity and fellowship, but, actually made to be this way – yes, made to be this way, to act in the name of Christ. Remember – God made everything – and it was good!
We make mistakes, take the wrong road. And then our wrong choices end up hurting others, ourselves, and God. But we have the choice to say sorry, to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s not easy. The first to apologise is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest. So, don’t let unresolved hurts of the past ruin a yet unlived future. Live and love in the Christmas present whilst preparing for a New Year. For it is Christmas that brings all this to the fore. The ‘season of goodwill’, many call it.
But why just a ‘season of goodwill’, it isn’t just for Christmas, it’s for life. Just like a dog isn’t just for Christmas, but for life. Sorry, did I say, ‘dog’? Turn that word back to front and what do you get – ‘God’ – Our God – and our God is not just for Christmas, but for life – eternal life.
The reason we are inherently good, is because we are made in the image of God. We are in God and He in us. We love, because he loved us first. No other creature is so generous, caring, or helpful. What other creature defends the weak, helps the powerless and even cares about other species? But we do – and we do it world-wide.
God, as Christmas shows, is all about giving. For God is the giver and the gift, and we are called to share that gift. Love and care was shown in Bethlehem, Paddington and Kings Cross.
We are to follow God from The Crib, to The Cross, to Eternity, for us that journey starts here, it starts now – let’s travel together!