Crib Service 24th of December 2011-12-23
Christmas, Christ-Mass, the Mass of Christ. Just the word Christmas is fascinating. The first part ‘Christ’ is obvious – a word that means ‘Messiah’ or ‘Saviour’ or at a pinch even ‘King’ but ultimately means Jesus, this little baby here, and all He came to do. But the word Mass is more complicated, it doesn’t mean ‘weight’ like it does in science – this is not a celebration of how many pounds the baby Jesus weighed when He was born! No it comes from the Latin word ‘Missa’ which means ‘to disMISS’ or ‘to go’ - it is the word used for sending out and has come to mean ‘MISSion,’ the spreading of the Good News of Christ Born human and crucified for our sins to other people when we leave this building. So the word Christmas really means the event where we Christians are to go out into the world and tell the people about Jesus, about the Christ, it is the Mass of Christ. But for how many of us is this a reality? How many of us even think of speaking about Christ and His glorious mighty deeds that won our salvation to those around us, let alone to ourselves!
But what are we to say about this little baby born two thousand years ago – this little baby who was God Himself? And of course before we can tell others about Jesus we must first know in our hearts what He has done for us, we must live each day before the Cross of Jesus and live the life He intended for us – not one filled with rules of do this and don’t do that but one of freedom, one of forgiveness, one of fellowship, and one of familial love where we treat everyone as our brothers and sisters.
So who was Jesus? Well he was born as a homeless refugee in a feeding trough because there was nowhere to live. But He was also as the angels said, the Son of God, God Himself, Emmanuel – that is God with us. There are not really the words to describe what a gift this baby was and is to the world. It is generally true that the greatest gifts are the ones that cost the most, it may not be money it may be time to make or the emotion put into it, it is that giving of yourself that makes the gift so special, the sacrifice that goes with it. Well what kind of sacrifice did God make for you? The God who flung the stars into space, who created the universe from nothing, who sustains and keeps each one of us and this whole world in place, the God who is so much bigger and greater than we can even imagine, He gave up everything for you – He who is beyond having a physical body came down and was born of Mary, He who keeps all of us alive had to be fed milk by His Mother, He who created all that exists with but a word cries out for His mummy, for warmth and food and love, He who from the beginning of time had a plan for each of us poops His diaper because He can’t even control His own body. He who is eternal, comes to earth and becomes mortal, comes to earth to die just as we do. That to me sounds like some sacrifice! Jesus is quite possibly the only person in history to have given more to other people on His Birthday than He Himself received!
And one thing that strikes me about this scene we see here is what Mary lays Jesus in – a manger, a feeding trough. The wooden bowl from which the animals would eat. I think we could all agree that one of the best things about Christmas is the gift of food, we all love Christmas dinner. Whether we slave over it from six in the morning or we get up at midday roll out of bed to open some presents and then stuff our faces with turkey and potato and perhaps if adventurous even Brussels sprouts. Food, along with Oxygen and water, is one of the few things that we absolutely need to live. And Jesus was laid in a manger, earlier I asked what Jesus does for us – well His birth shows us one part of it – Jesus is the food of the world, Jesus is the only one who sustain us, the only one who we need if we are to grow, the only one from who we find the nourishment we need, the only one who can satisfy us humans. From this tiny manger and this tiny baby is fed a world of over six billion people.
Jesus when He grew up would say “I am the Bread of Life. Anyone who comes to me will never be hungry! Anyone who believes in me will never be thirsty… I am the Living Bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread, they will live forever” Earlier on Jesus had said to the woman at the well that “anyone who drinks the water I’ll give them won’t ever be thirsty again. No, the water I’ll give them will become a spring of water welling up to the life of God’s new age.
Anyone who eats this bread will live forever… the water I give will become a spring of water welling up to the life of God’s new age. What is the gift Jesus gives us on His birthday? The gift we received two thousand years ago in Bethlehem at Christmas? Eternal Life. The gift of Eternal Life.
And this was no off the cuff idea by God. It may be hard to believe it but in the Old Testament Jesus, this tiny cute little baby, was known by another name – The Lord of Hosts – in French this is ‘Le chef de l'armée de l'Eternel’ The Chief of the Eternal Armies. Jesus is the commander of the greatest army of all time, an army so powerful that one single soldier from it can wipe out an Assyrian army of fifty thousand men single handedly. Now there is a Hollywood blockbuster just waiting to be made! When Jesus comes again it will be as this mighty warrior, this great King this commander of time and history. And it is in this role that we see Jesus as the grand strategist. The Grand Strategist of time and history and salvation.
I have often found that when it comes to Christmas planning is key, planning long, long, in advance what presents to buy for which people – getting them cheap in the post-Christmas sale, getting cards ready more than a day in advance… Yes Christmas can be stressful with all the planning needed. But Christmas was God’s plan from before the world was even made. Christmas – Jesus – God coming down to earth to save us and feed us and grant us eternal life was always God’s plan, it was plan A plan Alpha right through to plan Omega. God always loved us, always has done, God never punishes us, ever, because the debt for anything we might do wrong has been paid in Jesus. Jesus comes to offer us eternal life. And how do we grasp hold of this amazing bargain, this precious gift of eternal life? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.” Whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life.
Just like in real life we need to actually go to the Christmas dinner table to eat and be fed and nourished so it is that to enter into the eternal kingdom of God which He offers us freely we need to accept that gift and go to the table and eat – we need to believe, and only believe. This is not like Santa who is making a list and checking it twice He’s going to find out whose naughty or nice. This like Jesus who says come one and all and be fed, have eternal life, I’ve come to earth for you because I love you and want to know you and give you everything, just believe in me and come into the warm.