THE SIGN OF THE SPECIAL KING
Sermon delivered on Christmas Day, Sunday the 25th
December 2016 by Bishop Nicholas J.G. Sykes at St. Alban's Church,
461 Shedden Road, George Town.
Scriptures: Isaiah 9:2-7 Titus 2: 11-14 S. Luke 2:1-20
Luke 2: 11f "To you is born this day in the city
of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign
for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying
in a manger."
Christmas time seems to be full of contrasts. It is the
season of gladness and merriness, and yet those who have some
particular sadness to bear often get extremely depressed and feel
very left out at this time. The Festival actually calls us to slow
down and contemplate the indescribable wonder of God by whom all
Heavens and earth were made, stooping so completely towards us that
He genuinely took human form: and indeed the human form that He took
was not a godlike wonder-man figure that we could more easily
imagine. The Babe of Bethlehem that was borne by Mary was a wholly
human baby, as helpless at first, and at the same time as powerful,
as any other human infant. The thought of this should stop all of us
in our tracks and get us to think, to imagine, to wonder, to praise.
Sadly the reality of Christmas as more often perceived
by us, is that it is a hugely busy time. The pleasure of giving can
so easily turn into something burdensome and unrelated to the nature
of Christmas itself. In even my own tasks of preparing the various
activities of the Church, it can often be easy for me to get so wound
up about the details as to be lacking in contemplation about what
gives it its meaning.
So it is necessary for us to bring together the active
and the contemplative. All action and no contemplation makes for
complete loss of meaning. All contemplation and no action, however,
is not likely to express the Gospel of God Incarnate either. The real
meaning of our giving at this time is in the giving of God to us. If
we gave nothing, could we say that we received what God gave to us at
that first Christmas?
If we have been over-active in the days before
Christmas, the opportunity may now arise for some of us to slow down
at last and be more contemplative about the theme of the Coming of
Christ. It is good to remember that the Church perceives Christmas
Day to be the beginning of the Christmas Season, that goes on now for
twelve days. Increasingly that will sound strange to a world that has
called everything from American Thanksgiving to Christmas Day "the
Christmas season". Still, the long-held perception of the Church
can be advantageous to us now. If we have failed to be contemplative
about Christmas up to this point, we can now use the real Christmas
Season, starting today, to fill up what has been lacking.
Last Sunday we thought about God's signs that He gives
to His people both in the present and in the past, and we considered
the obedience of St. Joseph, who with great thoroughness acted on the
sign or vision that was given to him, that he was not to be afraid to
take Mary as his wife. Today, Christmas Day, is itself a special sign
to us, a sign that the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation
for all people, as the second lesson this morning from the letter to
Titus declares. In general it can be said that Christmas with its
trappings of lights, the tree pointing to the heavens, and the
presents, functions like a sign that points to a way of living, of
acting and of thinking that goes beyond our regular ways of behaving.
Today is a holiday, a "holy day" that we understand has
special significance for our lives, and even the commercialism of the
festival does not always set out to erase that. One of the things we
understand from a holy day is that it is good to have "time out"
periods that transcend the regular flow of time that we are used to
in our daily work and existence. Christian thought has always
honoured the "sacred moments", the "times out"
the Sundays, the sabbath rests, that serve to renew life in
meaningfulness and that serve to refresh the regular flow of time.
The ministry of the Word and
Sacrament that takes place on Sundays as well as on the Holy Days is
our own principal ministry of the special moment, the time out or the
sabbath rest, our principal ministry of God's sign or vision for our
lives. Like St. Joseph, and as we see in the Gospel today, like the
shepherds, we are called to receive
the signs that are offered to us. The shepherds were given a special
sign, and if they had been sophisticated argumentative types they
might have had difficulty in receiving it. In their vision, which is
described as the appearance of an angel to them and the shining
around them of the glory of the Lord, they are told that the Saviour,
the Messiah, the Lord has just been born in the city of David,
Bethlehem. The sign they were given would not make sense to anybody
who argued that only the very finest circumstances would ever do for
that Saviour, Messiah and Lord. Nothing but the best should surely be
the sign. But no, actually the sign was that they would find the babe
wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in an animal feeding trough.
The Babe of Bethlehem suffered no harm whatever from the
humble circumstances of his entry into the world. The circumstances
were makeshift, but He had His mother's love and attention and
sustenance, He had his earthly father's watchful protection and He
had physical comfort and warmth. He had everything a baby needed.
Yet, if this royal Prince had had a public relations officer, or a
presidential counsellor, such an individual might have cringed at the
thought of anybody coming to visit just then. The way we habitually
look at things, this was an extraordinary way to publicise the birth
of a Prince.
It was an extraordinary way, and it was God's way, and
it was an extraordinary Prince, one indeed who was destined to be a
sign that was spoken against, as the old man Simeon would soon say, a
sign that would cause a sword to be pierced through the Mother's
soul. The Cross would not be the way either that a public relations
officer or a great man's counsellor would advertise that man's
goodness, or royalty, or divine love. Yet now the uniqueness of
Immanuel the Babe of Bethlehem was being signed by a heavenly host
from the very beginning. The shepherds accepted the sign that was
told to them, and as St. Joseph had done before, acted immediately
upon it. “They went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the
Babe lying in a manger.”
His Mother who loved Him gave Him contentment, and we
learn of Her today that like Her husband she listened and received
the signs that were given to Her. She kept what the shepherds said,
pondering them in Her heart. Our hearts too will make our Lord
content, by receiving and honouring the sign of our special King, and
the signs that He abundantly provides to us. For indeed from the West
to the East God is providing remarkable signs to His beloved people
in their very many troubles of so many sorts.
Let us act upon the signs! Like the Blessed Mother of
the Lord, and St. Joseph and the shepherds, we too will receive and
honour God’s signs to us when we commit to them and act upon them,
joyously and thoroughly.