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Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Stebbing Carol Service Sermon 2011

So, what do you want for Christmas?

Let me start by saying that other department stores are available – borrowing their idea does not imply endorsement of that particular one.

Gifts you can’t wait to give.
All I really want to say tonight is that like that little boy, God has a gift for you that he can’t wait to give, that he longs to be able to share with you.
And in spite of appearances sometimes, like that little boy, God is more interested in giving to you than receiving from you or from me or from any of us.
It probably isn’t a gift you’ve asked for, though if you’ve heard about the Alpha course we ran this autumn you may have it on your list.

It isn’t anything you’ll need to unwrap, nor is there is a danger that you’ll want to take it back to the shop and exchange it for something else.

It isn’t embarrassing like those socks or that scarf or that hideous tie, and it won’t break after a week. Its batteries don’t run out – indeed it has its own eternal power source.

Money can’t buy this gift, as the Beatles sang many years ago, but as Michael Ball sang not quite so long ago, it does change everything.

That little lad in the John Lewis ad had been waiting impatiently for a few weeks to give his gift, but God has been waiting for the entire history of the universe to give you – yes you – a gift.

That little lad kept his gift a secret, hiding it away in the cupboard, but God made plain his gift to everyone, a long time ago.

The reason we give gifts at Christmas is to remind ourselves of the gift God gave us that first Christmas – the gift of his love, expressed in the coming to earth of his son born as a poor baby in a small village in the Middle East; Jesus, the Christ.

Money can’t buy love, but as we shall see, love changes everything.

The coming of Jesus was an amazing act of love – that the eternal God should stoop to become a mere human being. Yet the most amazing gift was yet to come, when Jesus died on the cross.

The cross, and the empty tomb of the resurrection are God’s way of saying “I have a gift for you”. In a way then, this gift has been on clear display under a metaphorical Christmas tree for 2000 years, waiting for us to notice it, and claim it as our own.

And many people have done just that. 2.3 billion people, that’s 33% of the population of the world are Christians today. And tomorrow there will be 80,000 more Christians, as across the world 80,000 people accept the gift that God longs to give, the gift of his love in Jesus Christ.

The compelling thing about that little lad in the advert is that we are set up by the music and pictures to think that he is waiting impatiently to receive gifts, not give them. 

What makes it so moving – or creepy depending on which YouTube channel you watch, is that he confounds our expectations and walks past the gifts piled up for him to fetch and give a single special gift to his loved ones.

And some people here I am sure are thinking that God only wants to take from us, just wants to receive our worship, our money our time and so on. Yet as I have already said, God is more interested in giving than receiving, and that’s true all the time, not just at Christmas.

We give of those things willingly if we have received the gift God gives – the gift of his love, the gift of new life in Jesus Christ.

And how do we receive this gift, how do we get this eternal life, you may be inwardly asking.

It is by invitation only. That is, you have to invite the giver into your heart.

When we come before God and ask forgiveness for the things we have done wrong, and invite Jesus to enter our lives, to become a part of who we are, he comes willingly and gives freely of his love.

Now don’t get me wrong, God’s love is always there for everyone, but to really know that love we need to ask Jesus to give it to us. We can also ask to be filled with the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus. What a gift that may turn out to be for some of you tonight.

One final thing though. That advert has a pleading refrain – “please please please let me get what I want …”
As much as God longs to give you that gift, he won’t badger you or beg or plead. Look at this picture – its called “The Light of the World” by Holman Hunt.

 It depicts Jesus standing by a door, waiting to enter. The painter explained that this represents our hearts, our lives that Jesus longs to be part of. His critics said “but there is no handle on the door, how will he get in?” Hunt replied, “ the handle is on the inside.”
The handle is on the inside – Jesus can only enter our hearts if we open the door and let him in.

I started by asking you what you want for Christmas. I know what God wants – a relationship with you. And if that’s what you want too, your wish can come true tonight.

At the end of the service our trained prayer ministry team will be glad to help you ask for and receive the gift that God longs to give you, but for now, let us pray …

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