I’d like to begin by saying that since we are after the 9pm watershed, in this sermon I will be mentioning Sun Sea and Sex, and in the best tradition of preaching I will talk about sex at the end, to keep you all listening along the way!
Christmas Starts with Christ.
You may have seen that this is the slogan for the Churches Advertising network this year, and so as we start Christmas tonight I would like to reflect on what that might mean exactly for us here in Stebbing tonight.
And not before time! I woke up after the carol service last Sunday to the news that people have organised a “Godless” Christmas celebration, with comedy, music and science instead of Bible readings, Christian carols and worship.
But if you have a Godless Christmas then you just have a mas, which some welsh bloke said means if you take the Christ out of Christmas you just are left with M and S. Personally I’d prefer us to be saying “this isn’t just Christmas it’s (PAUSE) Christmas in Stebbing. In the same way, I prefer to think a godless Christmas leaves you with a mess, not a mas.
A mess because without Jesus there is no point in celebrating Christmas and we may as well go back to just having 21 December as the winter solstice.
But here’s the cliché, and never was it more true to say that “Jesus is the reason for the Season”.
So what does it mean to start with Christ?
Well, throughout advent, which officially ends in a few minutes, the church has been focussing on the expectation of the coming of Christ, both in terms of his birth at Bethlehem and in terms of his return as King, at the coming of his Kingdom.
This is a part of Christmas that doesn’t get much of a look in, as it has to compete not only with Santa Claus, Reindeer, mince pies, chocolate, trees, tinsel, and the Sound of Music but also of course with the baby in the manger, the shepherds the angels and so on, that we rightly recall and think on at this time of year. But of course the principle reason we remember and celebrate his birth is because Jesus didn’t stay a baby, he grew to be a man; a man whose death on the cross, whose resurrection and whose ascension into heaven have inaugurated a new kind of rule; The Kingdom of God. At Christmas we talk a lot about God with us – Emmanuel. But he is only with us in Spirit now; there is so much more to come.
Isaiah prophesied that “the government will be upon his shoulders”, and “of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end”. This, with reference to Jesus Christ, does not mean he is seeking to actually take over the running of our governments now; it refers rather to his return as King, at the final coming of his Kingdom. Don’t let that stop you praying for the government though.
In this church we believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit to Christians means that the Kingdom is among us – as Jesus in fact taught. In practice this means that when we pray for people if they are ill or bereaved, we genuinely expect there to be a move of God to answer those prayers, not always as we expect or even as we would like, but we believe God is at work in the world today. So the Kingdom has come, but it is not yet here – a bit like Christmas has come, but it is not yet here, unless I have rabbitted on so long that midnight has passed and it is already Christmas day.
The Kingdom is yet to come fully; we worship Jesus as a King, but this Kingdom is not of this world.
But the Bible tells us that one day it will be. I was going to say the Bible is clear, but that wouldn’t be right, as it is very confusing and difficult to completely grasp exactly how things will happen when Jesus returns. One thing we must remain focussed on is that he will return. The child born in a manger who grew to be the man who died on a cross will return to be our ruler and judge.
The Kingdom is here, but it is not yet here. People do get better sometimes when we pray for them, but not always; the Bible tells us that when God returns to be with us there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain. Hope was born at Christmas, and that hope is for the return of the King.
The Kingdom isn’t fully here yet and here’s how we know; when it is here, the Bible tells us that there will be no more Sun, no more sea and no more sex.
We won’t need the Sun because we will be experiencing all the time the glory of God that the shepherds saw for a fleeting moment.
When the King returns it will herald the re-making of creation, and it looks as though Clacton and Frinton will lose out because there will no longer be any sea.
And there will be no more sex. That may seem disappointing, and in a sense it is because sex is a good thing, which we enjoy, don’t we?
Jesus did teach that there is no marriage in heaven, but I’ve got a theory about this; there is no sex in heaven, no sex in the new creation for two main reasons; in no particular order - since there is no more death it is clear that our existence is very different. And you know how sex feels really good, and in the right conditions is an amazing experience, well I think that when the Kingdom of God comes in all its fullness, if you’ll forgive the wording, it’s going to feel like that all the time.
Now that is quite a good reason for wanting to be part of this Kingdom I’ve been talking about, but there are many others, not least the consequences of Christ’s return as King for those who are not his disciples, his followers, his friends. When Jesus returns he will be coming as King but also as judge.
Christmas starts with Christ, but so also do the rest of our lives. Christmas starts with Christ, but so also does our salvation, our deliverance from sin and death, our citizenship of the Kingdom of God.
Christ’s coming to earth, and if we have faith in him, means that when he returns we will have a lot less to worry about.
And a lot more to celebrate.
Christmas starts with Christ, and tonight he could give you a new start. A new start that would mean you will be there when the kingdom comes, and you will see him face to face. (And that thing I said about sex as well)
A new start also that will change your life in the here and now; maybe miraculously, maybe just by a shift in your perception, but he will remake you, as one day he will remake the whole world.
How is this possible, you might be asking/ How can a baby give me a new start? Well don’t forget that the baby whose birth we celebrate tonight is, as the carol puts it “Our Lord in heaven above. And he leads his children on to the place where he is gone.”
He has gone there to prepare a place for us; he wants to welcome us there. To get there all we have to do us reach out and take his hand, put our trust in him.
If you’ve never taken that step of faith, never really trusted in or reached out to the risen, living Christ who is reaching out to you now, but you want to receive the best Christmas present of all, then bring your order of service up to the rail at communion, and we will pray with you. If you still have more questions, there are leaflets at the back of church called “why Christmas?” which will help you so do please take one home with you.
Christmas starts with Christ; will you start a new life with Christ this Christmas?
Let us pray