Saturday, 28 December 2013

Christmas Eve Communion, 24 December 2013, 11.00pm Hebrews 1, John 1, Bruce

The sermon on Sunday at the carol service was the one with all the jokes.  So tonight I thought I would be a bit more serious.
Well, ok, I will try one little one:
One day, a teacher, a dustman, and a traffic warden all died and went to heaven. 
St. Peter was there, having a bad day because heaven was getting crowded. When they got to the gate, St. Peter informed them that there would be a test to get into Heaven: They each had to answer a single question. 

To the teacher, he said, "What was the name of the ship that crashed into an iceberg and sunk with all its passengers?" 

The teacher thought for a second, and then replied: "That would have been the Titanic, right?" St. Peter let him through the gate. 

Next, St. Peter turned to the dustman, and figuring that heaven didn’t really need all the stink that he would bring in, decided to make the question a little harder. "How many people died on the ship?" 

The dustman guessed 1228, to which St. Peter said, "That happens to be right. Go ahead." 

St. Peter then turned to the traffic warden. "What were their names?" 
Parking is a bit of an issue in Camberley at the moment.  Several roads in the town have been designated from 30 Minutes to Permit Holders Only.  The new signs look exactly like the old signs and quite a few folk have not noticed them.  I believe the number of tickets issued is approaching 1000.  This has upset quite a lot of people, and it does not seem fair to me.
I am talking about this now because I seek a direct link with the coming of Jesus.  I really do.
In John 3:16 we read: 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The world, literally the kosmos.  This is a hard word to get a grip on.  Does it mean that God loves the rocks and earth that we stand on?  Does it mean all the people who live on the earth?  One translation reads For God so loved all of us that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  But that is to restrict the meaning which is wider than that.  Sometimes the word “world” is used to indicate sinful and perverse ways of operating: avoid the sins of the world.  Sometimes the word is used to indicate all of creation, the creation that Jesus was instrumental in creating – the way that Christians tell the story. 


The truth is that God has created a wonderful world system, that is literally beyond our understanding.  Physicists used to be quite blaze about how they had figured out the universe.  It appears that 95% of all creation – dark matter and dark energy – exists as a theory.  It might be there, and probably is, but we have not discovered ways to prove it.  I have noticed that physicists are tending to be quite humble now; it is the geneticists and biochemists who think they have it all figured out.  I await developments with interest.
If it is true that the world of the physical is wonderful and awe inspiring, then it is also true in the realm of human society.  The big claim, made in Genesis, is that God created us in his image.  We have the capacity to love and create and appreciate beauty.  There is so much to admire in humankind.
And yet we find ourselves shut out of the garden, estranged from God and from each other.  It is very rare to find a truly evil person.  And yet the world is full of people, good kind people, who find themselves to be part of systems that force them to act in ways that are less than human.  Organisations such as the armed forces, governments, health services, banks (I used to work for one), churches (I work for one today), are not immune from acting in ways that seem to ignore the needs and concerns of ordinary individuals.  This is what it means to be human, and it is why Jesus came to live among us.
Camberley has a good story to tell.  As more offices are being converted to flats, people are moving back into the town.  We might soon return to a society such as I observed in Northern Spain when I walked the Camino, where people lived in apartments over the shops and the towns were vibrant and alive.  As a Streetangel I am glad to see something that might improve the quality of nightlife in Camberley.
But these residents need somewhere to park.  It does not seem unreasonable to reallocate some spaces for their use.  But you have to tell people.  The way our world works is that the decision is made here by Surrey Borough Council, but the notices are the responsibility of Surrey County Council.  The enforcement then goes back to SHBC.  If parkers make a fuss and complain, and SHBC stop enforcing the new rules, the residents who have bought tickets will quite reasonably complain that they are unable to park.
It is a very small scale example of how our human relationships and interactions are so complicated and can lead to such difficulty.  In the area of benefits or education or health provision, we again and again find that real hardship can be caused as a result of decisions made or enforced by people who perhaps feel helpless to change the system.  It is a symptom of a world order, a kosmos, that is out of joint.

Tonight we celebrate a life.  A baby was born who grew to be a man who challenged the system.  He absorbed all the evil that could be thrown at him.  He is God’s gift to the world, precisely because he is a light that shines in the darkness.  We might picture a diseased organism, and a drop of antibiotic, or perhaps some stem cells, are introduced that spreads out and kills infection and restores health.  In the same way this one life, lived 2000 years ago, has made a real impact.  Ideas of human worth and equality spring from that one life.  Hospices and hospitals, schools and universities, the whole concept of welfare and democracy, have rippled out.  Jesus came to his own, and to as many as received him, he gave the right to become children of God.  He calls each of us today to follow him, to receive forgiveness and new life, and to part of his ongoing movement.  When we pray Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, we are saying that we want this world to be better, that we want the weak and vulnerable to be protected, that we are willing to protest against systems that are unjust and unfeeling, that God loved every single person, including you, so much that he gave his only son that no one need perish but that all should inherit eternal life.

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