A Christmas sermon by Kim Fabricius
This is my 30th Christmas at Bethel. (I know: given my youthful good-looks, it’s hard to believe…) In preparation, I’ve been looking at my previous 29 sermons.
On my first Christmas (which some of you will remember … Yeah, right!), I focussed on two specifics of the message of the angels to the shepherds, highlighting the personal and the now: “To you … this day …” I named names – Ernie, Gareth, Pat, …, and said, today, December 25th 1982, the good news strikes again: “A Saviour is born! Your Saviour is born!!” Very in-your-face.
A year later I did a Patrick Moore (today it would be BBC pin-up Professor Brian Cox) and took you star-gazing. “Lift your heads!” I said. “There’s another world out there that has flashed into our world like the star the wise men saw and followed, leaving their familiar ecology, recklessly risking everything in their passionate hunt for the holy, for the real, (in T. S. Eliot’s words) “no longer at ease here in the old dispensation.” Will you raise your gaze from the flatlands of 24/7 and follow that star on a journey of faith into the New Year? Very get-up-and-go.
Then, in 1984, I deployed a visual aid. I borrowed a shopping trolley from the International (which became Spar, which has become Sainsbury’s) and strolled up and down the aisle filling it with the presents you brought to the service. So full, in fact, that they covered the child’s seat – which was precisely my point: in all the clutter of our lives, no room for the child. But – more – God is a God who “makes room” – that’s what the Hebrew word for “salvation” literally means – “roominess”. “So make room for the Christ-child!” I exclaimed, as I cleared the seat in the trolley. What a clever-clogs I thought I was!
In 1985, it was the occasion for a word-play. Huge letters Blu-Tacked to the backs of chairs set up at the front: “GOD IS NOWHERE”. Such, I said, is the claim of atheism. But if you take the word “NOWHERE” – and I took the word “NOWHERE” – and break it after the “W” – and I broke it after the “W” – well, presto!: “GOD IS NOWHERE” becomes “GOD IS NOW HERE”, the Christmas claim. Neat, huh?
In 1986, I got scholarly. Mary, according to Luke 2:19, “remembered”, or “treasured”, all the things the shepherds had told her. But the original Greek actually means “kept them in good condition”. Our toys will break, our jumpers will wear, or jewellery will tarnish, but, I said, God will always keep Jesus as good as new. So getting up for Greek class at 8:30 in Oxford, I thought, was worth it after all!
That’s my first 5 years here. Only 25 to go… Okay, I know, at this rate it will be Boxing Day before I finish! So suffice it to say that, in subsequent years, among other things …
I’ve used a Christmas card showing Santa in Australia riding Rudolf the red-nosed wallaby, to contextualise the good news, to earth it wherever you happen to live.
I’ve done a reflection on “Christmas is dynamite”, Jesus as “an explosion of humanity”: handle this kid in the cot with care, for he will grow up to be the man from Nazareth who lives very dangerously – and he will call us to follow.
I’ve told you about the 4½ foot-high door in the Church of the Holy Nativity in Bethlehem, and said that we have to become very small, like a child, if we want to enter the kingdom of God.
I’ve done a meditation on Jesus the “disarming” child who couldn’t care less about our nationality or sexuality or theological correctness, who “reaches out, unquestioningly, to your elemental humanity, desiring only your tenderness, moist like cattle breath, warm like straw.”
I’ve exploited Harry Potter mania, suggesting that J. K. Rowling is quite heavily reliant on the story of Jesus for her magical epic drama – which isn’t nearly as good as the original.
I’ve made up a meeting of the IMF – that’s the Incarnational Management Forum – imagining what such a focus group might come up with for Christmas – and, of course, getting it all wrong by turning Christmas into a summit meeting of the world’s power brokers. You can imagine the mess!
I’ve done a send-up on “Round Robin” Christmas letters, imagining what Mary might write for Hello magazine with all its razzmatazz celebrity junk: “Joseph is an amAAAzing partner, the birth was AWEsome, and three Kings gave us LOTS of bling-bling, while some shepherds sang ‘Hark! the Harrods Angels sing’.”
I’ve asked if you’re good at remembering important dates, pointed to dates we all seem to remember – great ones like the release of Nelson Mandela, terrible ones like 9/11 – but concluded that there is no day like Christmas Day for a world-changing event – apart, of course, from the Good Friday it anticipates, crib and cross cut from the same wood.
I’ve deployed Dr Seuss’ classic tale How the Grinch Stole Christmas? to advance the claim that, in fact, Christmas is un-nickable, that we are safe and secure in Christ, the one who never treated others as rivals, never acted in self-protection, lived a life of dispossession, not accumulation. If you can’t buy or sell love, you certainly can’t steal it.
I’ve shocked some people by proposing that, given the rather odd, indeed preposterous way the Christmas story unfolds, what with weird Babylonian astrologers, and shepherds who hear music in the sky, and a stable of a maternity ward – I proposed that, by the world’s standards, frankly, God is an idiot.
Finally, last year – “Land the plane!” I can hear Angie thinking! – I mocked the fashionable obsession with technology in worship, insisting that Christmas is God’s “Powerless Point Presentation”, God’s coming in the weakness and vulnerability of a neonate to counter and critique the world’s wowing us with the state-of-the-art.
So 29 years of annually looking for a different angle, a new gimmick, a catchy phrase to preach the Good News of Christmas. But really – as if the Christmas story needs a re-write! As if the Christmas message needs spin! As if I could re-market the meaning of Christmas, “new and improved”! O Kim, Kim, Kim – what a jerk!!
Listen! A simple story that unlocks the hidden treasures of the universe, addresses the deepest desire of our hearts, and fills us with wonder and joy. The mystery of the world turns out to be the reality of God, and the reality of God turns out to be a little human being. Homer, Shakespeare, Dickens, Tolstoy, all the great storytellers – they can all but grandly gesture to the simple story of Jesus in Luke. So this year let not the sermon interpret the story, let the story interpret the sermon. Yes, listen …: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus …” [Luke 2:1-20].