The greatest gift ever

Dec 23rd, 2006 | By | Category: Sermons

Saint Matthias Church, 11.30 pm, 24th December 2006

€œmild, he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise each child of earth,
born to give us second birth.

Hark! the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born King.�

I got married in September 1983 €”which means, if I have counted correctly, that this is the 24th Christmas since then. Twenty-three of those Christmases were spent in the company of Kate’s mother, Peggy. Peggy was a great Christmas person; she loved cooking the huge Christmas lunch; she loved setting the table in a precise way; she loved her annual half glass of sherry; she loved sitting down with her family around her; she loved the opening of the presents after lunch was finished, expressing great delight at every present she received, no matter how ordinary it was; she loved making sandwiches at tea time with slices of turkey and lashings of cranberry sauce. Every moment was marked in her own individual way.

Peggy died on 28th August, a long and good and blessed life, and this is the first Christmas without her. I suddenly realised her presence had shaped my Christmases for the past twenty-three years and there was a feeling of being adrift. Christmas is no longer quite the same thing it had been, there is an empty room in our house tonight and an empty place at our table tomorrow.

There will be sadness at lunchtime, but there will also be joy, because Christmas is not about the things of this world.

No matter how pleasant it is to have company, no matter how much we may enjoy our meal, no matter how much delight and surprise there is at the presents, Christmas is not about anything we do or anything we make or anything we buy.

Christmas is not even about the church. Bishops may issue their messages and parishes might hold all manner of services, but Christmas isnot about us. The joy of Christmas does not depend on anything the church says, it does not depend on anything the church does.

Christmas is about Jesus: €”beginning, middle, end, full stop.  It’s about God coming to earth for the simple reason that he wanted to give us a second chance. He wanted to give us the opportunity to be able to sit down at Christmas dinner and not be sad about the people we have lost, because if they have believed in him, they are with him now.

Christmas is about the chance of life after this one. This is what Saint John tries to explain to us in the words of the first chapter of the Gospel, ‘€œHe was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God’.

I did a radio interview with David McWilliams a couple of weeks ago and said to him that these were fairly bleak times for the Church, people have pretty much turned their backs. He disagreed. ‘€œWhy do you say they are bleak?’ he asked. He saw this as a time of opportunity, a time for the Church to get out into the marketplace of ideas, a time for the Church to get out and fight its corner.

If the Church is in the market place, what have we to sell to you? Old buildings, hard seats, funny words and old music? Is that it?

We really have nothing to offer to you, except the Good News of Jesus. We have the Good News of this little baby born in Bethlehem who grows up to become a wandering preacher and healer and who gets killed for his efforts, but who comes back from the dead—for one reason, to offer a second chance to you and me, to offer a life that goes on forever.

We’re not even in the business of selling; it’s a gift, it costs nothing, it’s there waiting to be received. Take it or leave it; €”it’s our choice, it’s your choice.

There is no greater gift that it’s possible to receive than a life that never ends; €”than a life that is lived without any fear of dying because dying is just a step along the way.

When we sit down at lunchtime we will miss Peggy. Her stories and her laughter will come back in our minds, but we will not grieve because she believed that she was going to be forever with the Lord, and we share her faith. Christmas is about Jesus, it’s about God offering each of us the assurance that Peggy possessed; it’s our choice whether we accept or whether we reject the greatest of gifts.

‘€œmild, he lays his glory by,
born that we no more may die,
born to raise each child of earth,
born to give us second birth.

Hark! the herald-angels sing
glory to the new-born King’

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