May you be 'Full of God' this Christmas
Christmas Day: 25th December, 2016
Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster, Vicar of St Peter's, Eastern Hill
I must confess I have had to battle with my inner-Christmas-Grinch this year, aka Ebenezer Scrooge! I put my hand up. I've been a terrible grump at times this past week or two.
There is always so much to do. People have crises at Christmas; how inconsiderate of them! People die, others want to get married, others want counselling or just to point out how the Vicar or others could be doing a better job. It's all everyday stuff for a Vicar, but it somehow gets so amplified at this time of year.
The big one for me was on Friday, when news broke of an alleged plot to bomb our Cathedral here in Melbourne. What is happening to our world? O my God ... literally! I can hardly watch the news these days; the horrors of Aleppo; the Berlin atrocity; fighting politicians; family violence statistics; and the list goes on.
My 17 year-old daughter summed it up: "Dad, Christmas was way better when I was little!"
Mind you, I must add, I've done battle with the Gringe, and I've tried to undermine my inner-Scrooge this year. And the biggest help in this task has been other people. It's pretty hard to catch the spirit of Christmas alone.
My favourite Christmas function each year is the Lazarus Centre lunch for the homeless. On Friday we fed 150 people; the Fireys from over the road came en-mass to volunteer, as did many others. I can see now the joyful face of one of the volunteers at our lunch: "It doesn't get much better than this" he said. And he was right!
As we give to others, especially the vulnerable ones — our children, the homeless, the elderly — as we give to others the true spirit of Christmas starts to break through. Even the Gringe and the Scrooge are no match for the love of God that shines forth through acts of kindness and love.
As the prophet Isaiah wrote (9:2): "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shone."
We all know the story of the birth of the Christ-child (so beautifully told by the children); we have probably heard it told again and again since childhood. But somehow each year it comes to life afresh. By God's grace, and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the story of the Incarnation is born afresh in us.
The Christmas story is one of the most profound stories ever told; it is as powerful and resonant today as it ever was.
It is not a Pollyanna tale of naïve optimism. Its historical context is as harsh as any we face today. A despotic ruler attempting genocide; the Holy Family forced to flee as refugees; Mary and Joseph homeless in a foreign land. All that could possible go wrong went wrong. It was unimaginably stressful at a time when Mary should have been resting and quietly waiting for the birth.
But into this messy, harsh, painful reality of human existence is born an unparalleled act of love. Divinity becomes incarnate as a child. This is the One, the long-awaited Messiah, the Saviour of the world.
The very heavens begin to sing with joy. The angels enlighten the workers in the fields, even powerful oriental lords are drawn to cross the desert to witness this act of love.
Into this world of pain and suffering, God shines the most beautiful light — a fragile and yet eternal symbol of faith and hope and love.
And it is not just an historical event, or a cute children's story. It is truth. It has a power that can shape your life and mine; that can heal our wounds; that can give us the courage to stand up for the good in the face of evil.
The story of the Incarnation is a story that transforms. We are not the same once we have heard it, once we allow its truth into our lives.
John Henry Newman, in his Christmas sermon "The Mystery of Godliness", said this: "May each Christmas, as it comes, find us more and more like Him, who as at this time became a little child for our sake, more simple-minded, more humble, more holy, more affectionate, more resigned, more happy, more full of God" (See here for the full text...)
May you indeed be "full of God" this Christmas, as you gather with family or friends, as you feast, as you take time to relax and refresh.
And may God's full and abundant blessing be with you; be with those in great need this Christmas; and be in your own acts of forgiveness, generosity and kindness.
The Lord be with you.