This sermon was given by our Reader, Christine, on Christmas morning 2018.
May I first begin by wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas.
As we come together today to celebrate the birth of Jesus, I would like us to reflect on the events leading up to and including Jesus’ birth and what it means to us today.
There are a couple of similarities between the Angel messages given to Mary, her cousin Elizabeth and the Shepherds.
Angels play and important part in the Bible in many ways, in the Old Testament and the New, long time before Jesus’ birth, but we know that both Mary and the shepherds were startled by an Angel.
We presume Mary was on her own, probably going about her daily jobs when the Angel appeared to her. At first, Mary hesitated, she was troubled, she pondered. She didn’t immediately, say how wonderful an angel is speaking to me. I’m sure she questioned herself as we would; Am I really seeing an angel? Did I really hear him speak to me?
Mary is hesitant she asks, “How can this be?” and she must have been anticipating the enormous consequences that this would cause. Mary acted in much the same way anyone would have reacted, after being startled, she asks questions and after listening to the answers Mary accepts what has been said, saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” Mary’s faith is an example to us all, it means giving ourselves to God, body, mind and soul.
Some of the first words the Angel says to Mary is, “Do not be afraid” the same words that the Shepherds first hear. Of course they were afraid, they were busy watching their sheep, who wouldn’t have been. It’s not every day that an Angel appears to people and starts talking to them.
We are told the Shepherds were ordinary everyday folk doing their job and it would have been very dark at night with only the moon, stars and possibly a small camp fire to project any light. The Shepherds, we don’t know how many, would either have been walking the perimeter of the sheep fold or sat checking in with each other to ensure the sheep were safe. They certainly would not have been expecting an angel to appear, so when he did they were afraid. I don’t know many of us here who wouldn’t have been afraid, but then the angel tells them about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, the Messiah. The Shepherds don’t seem to have hesitated once they had been told about the birth, they discussed it briefly and then hurried off to find the baby. Whether they believed or not at the start, they certainly did after they had seen Jesus, because they returned, we presume to their own homes, glorifying and praising God. They spread the word to all they met. They told them what they had heard from the Angel and what they had seen and all who heard were amazed. Mary herself treasured the words the shepherds told her and pondered them in her heart.
Both Mary and the Shepherds had heard the words spoken by an Angel. They listened and responded to what they were told.
In the verses, we have heard today Luke is telling us about the importance of hearing well and reacting to what we hear.
Many years ago my sister, brother and myself wanted a pup. We had asked our dad numerous times, only to be told, “No.” Then our friend’s dog had pups, so of course we wanted one even more. The answer was still “No.” We then went on holiday and probably being a little bit sneaky, when my dad was sunbathing and dozing. I asked him again, gently, “Could we please have a pup?” my dad said, “Yes” and being a man who wouldn’t go back on a promise, I asked him to promise, which he did and my mum was listening. (Personally, I think my parents had already discussed it and had decided to get a pup).
The important thing is that sometimes we don’t really listen. We hear what is said, but we don’t listen! We don’t take it in, we hesitate and ponder. “What was it I was just told?” How many times have we said that?
The Shepherds, probably told many people. The people of Bethlehem must have heard rumours. Mary and Joseph’s families must have been aware of what had happened, but it was not until Jesus began his ministry that people started to listen. They may have heard the stories about the birth of a special baby, they may have heard about a special man, especially from John the Baptist, but now Jesus was speaking they were listening.
The Christmas story is retold every year worldwide and no matter how many times we hear it there is always something new to see and hear. We only have to listen, open our hearts and minds, to ponder and respond.
Let us remember that behind the snowy cards, lights and tinsel; a baby born in a manger through the obedience of a young woman, glorified by Angels, visited by Shepherds and Wisemen and; when we exchange gifts, let us remember God’s gift of forgiveness given to us through his Son, Jesus Christ.
So, wherever we go let us remember the real reason for Christmas and keep Christ at the centre of ‘Merry Christ-mas’.
Reader @ St. Margaret’s Holyrood & St. George’s Simister.