Sermon – for Christmas Eve
A Sense of Wonder
Scripture: Matthew 1: 18 -
If you haven’t lost it by the time your thirty, then by the time you’re forty, or fifty, and certainly by the time you’re sixty or seventy – the chances are you will have lost it.
I’m not talking about your memory, or your marbles, what I’m talking about is that wide eyed, childlike, sense of wonder – something that for many of us, was so much part of our lives at Christmastime when we were at kindergarten, primary school, or even high school.
It was that sense that something bigger than us, something exciting, something miraculous happens at Christmastime. A sense that was fostered by stories: the story of a young couple with a donkey making a journey. The story of their arrival in Bethlehem to find there’s no room in the inn. The story of a young woman about to give birth. A story of shepherds on the hillsides caring for their sheep, of angel choirs in the heavens, of voices from on high proclaiming good news. And then the story of those same shepherds racing across the fields to Bethlehem, and of a baby being born who was lying there in of all places a feeding trough for animals, a manger. Or maybe it was the story of the Wise Men that carried the sense of wonder for you: of astrologers, now there’s something to wonder at. Men who in lands far away tried to foretell events by signs in the heavens, men who were attracted by a new and significant star or was it the confluence of Jupiter and Venus, men who most likely journeyed on camels, men who brought gifts, men who knelt before the baby Jesus.
And the stories, and that sense of wonder were enhanced by the Nativity plays in church. We may even have acted in one. Someone here may have had the privilege of been the baby Jesus. And that sense of wonder was enhanced too by the familiar carols: Away in a Manger, Silent night, O little town of Bethlehem. Sung not only in our churches, but by carol singers in the streets, and sounding forth in our department stores.
It had us wide eyed, full of wonder, and with it: we believed, we believed profoundly, with all our hearts. We believed that God was in it, that God was entering our humanity, that God in Jesus – the baby, was here with us.
But today as you wearily trod the massive shopping mall – and saw the Santas, and the baubles, and heard the Christmas songs about trivia, that often seem to have little if anything to do with Christmas – somehow the magic, the wonder of it all started to disappear. And you left the mall longing to hear a real Christmas carol, longing for something with more substance, longing for that sense of wonder.
Then again as you wearily trod the mall, you may have read this advert for a 42in flat screen for Christmas, or that advert for a $1,000 so called bargain half price pendant for Christmas. Yes, I saw the ad with my own eyes outside Michael Hills. Fortunately my wife would be very upset if I bought her one, and I’d be in real trouble for blowing the household budget! Yes, in the crass commercialism, in the over kill, somehow it all starts to disappear. .. and instead of wonder – the cynic emerges within us.
And Santa Claus. Oh yes he is there. He is resplendent in his white beard and his red robes, he takes pride of place in the malls busiest thoroughfare. But, – one has to wonder if he really is good old St Nicholas, or if somehow he has become the Grinch – stealing Christmas for himself – so that he can have all the limelight and the real meaning of Christmas, the baby born in the manger at Bethlehem, is somehow lost in the shadows – or barely glimpsed at all. But don’t get me wrong I’m not anti Santa – I’ve been known to don the red suit myself on occasion – but let’s keep him in his place...he is an extra to Christmas not the central event!
Just occasionally of course it is not like that. I went to the post office in Ellerslie a few days ago, and parked my car outside a shop. As I got out I noticed that in the window there were several quite large figures, beautifully presented, and there they were Mary and Joseph and the baby, -
And just occasionally even in the mall you may hear a real carol – and rejoice when you do. How I wish that our Church choirs, and singing groups, were there offering their services singing for the people in the food courts – and thoroughfares.
Well, tonight we are here, in this candlelit church, to listen again to the story, to sing the carols, to seek to recapture our childlike sense of wonder – and the candles help don’t they -
We are here to sense something of what the shepherds felt on the starry night on the hillsides,
We are here to sense something of the mystery that motivated wise men to mount their camels and to follow their star,
but above all we are here to focus our hearts and minds, and if we can, to be there through our God given imagination in that stable with Mary and Joseph and the baby.
To be there to offer our adoration, our devotion, to the Christ child – to the miracle of God’s grace being born amongst us.
Tonight will have achieved much if we can even for a brief moment recapture that childlike sense of wonder. It will be enough to send us home rejoicing. And rejoice we should for this is Christmas.
This is His birthday, Christ is born, God is with us.
Thanks be to God.