Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 24 December 2017
Reading was Luke 2:1-7
Our reading this morning is from the Gospel according to Luke.
Now, for many right now ‘Luke’ makes them think of one thing… The latest Star Wars movie: The Last Jedi. Such people are obsessed with the Star Wars movies. (I know, because I am one!) I have seen the latest Star Wars movie. Now, I’m aware that for those who are fans of the Star Wars movies, just mentioning that I’ve seen the movie if they HAVE NOT – causes them great anxiety! If that’s you this morning, don’t worry. There are no ‘spoilers’ in this sermon.
But I do want to mention one part of the latest movie. It’s not substantial to the plot! It’s a cool thing that illustrates a point I want to make this morning. So Luke (Luke Skywalker) is on this island, and it’s a really tall island with steep cliffs, with big gaps separating parts of the island. The cool part is that to get from one high point to another (across the gaps) he uses this massive-long pole to vault from one cliff to another. And he makes it look so easy!
Why did I tell you this?
Well, I think sometimes it can feel like there is a big gap between us and the Christmas story. Do you sometimes feel that there is a gap between you and this story… that happened a long time ago in a place far, far away…?
Last week the Children’s Choir (weren’t they gorgeous?) sang a song titled ‘Long, long ago’. And led us all in another song that had the line
Jesus was born on Christmas day, long ago and far away.
That’s true isn’t it? Jesus was born long ago and far away. What can we do about that?
Someone was showing me recently a coin that he had bought. It is a collector’s coin, that has the seal of King Herod on it. (Herod was the king we heard in the drama this morning.) The obvious appeal of this is that this coin offers a connection with the time and place Jesus was born. Pretty awesome to hold something like that.
Another link we have to the historical Christmas story is the stars. I’m not thinking primarily about the star that the wise men followed, but rather the stars we see in our own night sky. Did you know that when you gaze up at the stars you are looking at the past? Although light travels really fast, stars are so far away it takes time for the light to get here. Even the light from the sun (the nearest star to us) takes time to get here.
Anyone know how long it takes for the light of sun to get to earth? (A: about 8mins 20secs) This is why the distance of stars from us is measured in Light Years. A Light Year is the distance is takes light to travel in one year. Suppose a star is 100 light-years away from the Earth. The light coming from the star takes roughly 100 years to reach Earth. That means we are looking now at how that star was shining a hundred years ago.
Some stars are around 2000 Light Years away. Why is that interesting? It means… we are looking up at these stars now seeing them as they were shining when Jesus was born.I find that interesting. You may not.
But are we that desperate to try and minimise the gap between us and the historical Christmas story?
Think about these sites in Israel that are venerated as THE places where events of the Bible are alleged to have occurred. On one level, I understand the interest – as a tourist. But how important are such sites for our faith…?
The problem of the gap of time and distance for faith was expressed by the German Philosopher Lessing, who described the gap between our faith now and the historical events of the Bible as ‘an ugly, broad ditch’.
Another Philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, wondered this too. Do we have to become historians in order to have genuine faith? To put it another way, do we ‘access’ truth by the events of history alone?
The wonderful news is…we don’t have to overcome a gap because Christ is with us more than we can ever really perceive. Just as God overcame the gap by coming to earth in Christ and overcoming the ‘distance’ from heaven to where we are, so Christ continues to overcome the gap in the power of the Holy Spirit – who can be called ‘God in the present-tense’.
Christ is alive in our midst.
To quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer (mainly just to prove I’ve been on Study Leave recently!):
In coming to humanity, Christ takes all humanity into himself.
In taking on flesh, he takes on the flesh of all humanity.
And Christ is present in the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit, producing faith in those who hear the Word and participate in the sacraments of Baptism and Communion.
The Holy Spirit – the Spirit of Christ – comes into our midst, to open our eyes to see Christ and to tell us that Christ has taken us into himself and does so again today.
Cost of Discipleship, p250 (paraphrased)
In this sense, Christ is with us more than he was with those who gathered around the manger and even those who walked and talked with Jesus and sailed on the lake with him.
So, to conclude, We can let go of any anxiety about the distance from us and the historical Christmas story. The truth is that the Christmas story is still with us, and we are part of it.
It is here.
Christ is here.
Hallelujah! (And may the Force be with you…)