The Expected Gift – Midnight Service 24 December 2016

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The Rev’d Jonathan Gale

Isaiah 9: 2 – 7

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 shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4 For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Titus 2: 11 – 14

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, 12training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, 13while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. 14He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Luke 2: 1 – 14

The Birth of Jesus
2In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

Well here were are on the threshold of Christmas. Not long to go.

Advent has been a time of expectation, and that expectation has been heightened all the more by the mysterious nature of Advent. Because it is a season of waiting for God to arrive (albeit in the form of an innocent baby) it is disturbing. Any appearance of God is disturbing.

It should be or it’s not God!

It is therefore a season of both penitence (getting right with God) and of joy (at the soon-coming of the Christ-child). You’re oscillating between these two emotions; between sorrow and joy. Or at least you should be. Advent is about more than opening up the days on an Advent calendar. It’s about nervousness really.

That is the mysterious nature of Advent – that cognitive dissonance we can experience as we enter what is sometimes called a liminal state – where we are neither here nor there – caught between expectation and actualisation.

Last week I was trying to relax at the end of the day by watching a detective story. The serial killer is chained to a policemen who has his eye on an attractive detective. The killer notices him looking at her and says, “Let me give you some advice. If you haven’t done it yet, don’t. The expectation is much more pleasant than the deed itself.”

Sometimes it can be a bit like that with Christmas. The sales talk is better than the product. All the expectation and then it arrives with a little fanfare, perhaps not as much as we expected, and we think, “Okay. Well, we’re here. It’s Christmas. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. But, it’s better than the Plague, so let’s enjoy what it offers.”

Now at this point we are more than likely not thinking of God. You see, Christmas is about God and if you leave God out of the equation it will always disappoint. Every time.

When we wake up to the fact that our self-indulgent materialism never delivers what it promises, and we are ready to move beyond that point, we are in a position to encounter God.

And the wonderful thing about God is this: God looks for no qualifications from us. He takes all comers who are prepared to take him on board their lives.

God is THE gift of Christmas.

The prophets prophesied about him, the wise me searched for him, the angels and the shepherds announced him; but there is nothing quite like receiving him. And each of us can because he is the ultimate Christmas gift.

And remember you don’t have to be worthy to receive a gift. Gifts are given because you are loved – and God’s love is for each and every one of us and it comes  – at least at Christmas time – in the form of the Christ-child – born in a stable in Bethlehem.

You make sure you receive that gift this Christmas. It will more than meet your expectations.

God bless you!