Emmanuel – God with us
A sermon preached by Cranmer’s Curate at his service of Carols by Candlelight:
I want to focus this evening on three reasons why we mustn't tamper with the Christmas message, the message of the new-born King, the Virgin’s Son, conceived in her womb by the Lord God Almighty in order to fulfil his loving purposes for the salvation of sinful mankind.
Firstly, Christianity is a revealed religion.
It is not a make-it-up-as-you-go-along religion. It is about what God has chosen to reveal about himself in Jesus Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ. Therefore if we press the delete button on the biblical words to describe Jesus - Lord, Man, Son of God, King – we are pressing the delete button on what God has chosen to reveal. Christianity thus becomes a man-centred religion, a religion that we invent. Do we really want that? Do we really trust ourselves to get it right?
Look at the mess we are making of God’s world. We are the race who invented murder, the sin of Cain, finding grim expression within our recent history in the death-camps of Hitler, the gulags of Stalin, the genocide of Rwanda and most recently the slaughter at Mumbai. And in case we’re inclined to dismiss those as foreign problems, look at what is happening on our own streets. An 11-year-old boy shot by a 16-year-old boy when he accidently walked into the line of fire between two rival street gangs. The killer, now 18, just before being led away from the dock, embraced one of his fellow gangsters and clasped the hands of two others in an apparent show of solidarity. Look at what is happening to our country following the wholesale abandonment of the Christian consensus. Christianity, thank the good Lord, is a revealed religion – it is about what God chooses to tell us, not about what we invent.
Secondly, Christianity is a reconciling religion.
We – mankind – need reconciling with the God who made us. We began our Bible readings with Genesis, the first book of the Bible describing how mankind threw off God’s loving rule and authority. We were given freedom in the paradise God had created, freedom to eat from any tree in the Garden. But God, as a visible symbol of his rightful authority over us his creatures, had placed in the centre of the Garden one tree we were not to eat from. What do we do? The one thing we are told not to. We rebel. We do it our way, we throw off God’s authority and the consequence of that is alienation from God. We are expelled from paradise, we are excluded from the intimacy and friendship with God we enjoyed in the Garden where he walked in the coolness of the day seeking fellowship with his creatures.
We may not be as bad as we could be, but being sinful men and women no area of our lives is sin-free. Even our good deeds are polluted by sinful motives, self-love, pride, vain-glory, rather than giving God the glory – your and my sin has the effect of alienating us from the God who made us. The message of Christmas is that God sent his Son Jesus Christ as the Saviour we need to reconcile us to God, to bring peace between us and the God we have rejected. That is the peace about which the heavenly host sang on the night the Saviour was born – ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests’ (Luke 2:14). Christmas is about peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity is a reconciling religion.
Thirdly, Christianity is a repenting religion.
Repenting basically means changing our minds about the way we live; turning around; deciding that we are no longer going do it our way, but do it God’s way. Christmas therefore calls for a decision from us. Will we repent? Will we change our minds about the way we are going? Will we submit to God’s rightful rule over us, which now, in the light of Christmas, means submitting to God’s new-born King, his Son the Lord Jesus Christ? ‘Joy to the World’ in its traditional form hits the nail bang on the head about the response Christmas calls from us – ‘Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King’. Jesus is God’s chosen and appointed King, and therefore we need to start doing what he says – believing in him for the forgiveness of our sins and living our lives his way.
Christmas is not about soaking up a Christian atmosphere once a year. It is about facing up to the fact that God reveals who Jesus is, our Lord, our King, our Saviour. It is about facing up to the fact that we need reconciling with the God who made us. We are alienated from him because of our sin. And it is about facing up to the fact that we need to repent, to change the way we are living and to start living with the Lord Jesus as our Ruler and King.
Cranmer wishes all of his readers and communicants all over the world a blessed and peaceful Christmas. In these times of political instability and economic turmoil, may you find the time to reflect upon the wonder of Christmas; may the Christ-child be born anew in your hearts, and may you draw nearer to the one who sacrificed everything in order that man may live for evermore.