Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Advent @ St Luke's

St Luke's - 4th Sunday of Advent -22nd December 2013:

Introduction to Advent:

Welcome to the 4th Sunday of Advent... 3 more sleeps to go... and then it is Christmas... the celebration of Christ coming into the world, into our story, then, today and tomorrow! Even still though we are waiting patiently, we're learning to wait for what really matters rather than that instant gratification we all so often crave. Jesus comes in his own time and on his own schedule. 

Christmas Reorientation: (stand and read aloud together)

Christmas is coming
Some see this as "the silly season" - as a
time of stress and anxiety
We chose though, not to be consumed by the consumerism.
Christmas is the coming of Christ into the world
Rather than be frantic, we will be still.
We celebrate Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. Everywhere.
A new way of living, a new day has dawned
Though there may be darkness, The Light has come.
We remember that Christmas is hope, peace, joy and love
Christmas is Christ.

Advent Wreath and Candles:

This morning, with our Advent wreath, we're going to light all four candles. Hope, peace, joy, today's candle which is symbolic of love.

The light gets brighter and brighter as we journey forwards towards the coming of The Light of the World.

So this morning we need four kids to come and help light a candle...

Love - Based on Psalm 103 and John 15: (one person reads and everyone else joins in)

Lead: The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting. 
 The Lord's love endures forever. 

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

 Love the Lord with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.

We love because He first loved us. He is the light of the world. He is love.


Joy to the World - Issac Watts
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
 - Charles Wesley

Oh Holy Night
 - Adolphe Adam

Interactive: (discussion in small groups with particular focus on including kids and interacting with kids)
In small groups discuss the following questions...
What is your favourite thing about Christmas?
Which word is most meaningful for you at Christmas; hope, peace, joy or love? Why?
What might people find difficult or challenging at Christmas?
Is there a way you could show love to them this Christmas?

Sermonette: (Joseph McAuley)

Matthew 11:2-3
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"


Pre-Christian Germanic countries used to celebrate and hold a feast in the middle of winter called Yule. It was held to mark the winter solstice, the time of year when the noon day sun is its lowest. Little work could be done in the winter and now the countdown to better weather started. The celebration would often go for 12 days.

Legend had it that during these times of the year there were more supernatural and unusual occurrences than at other times of the year. Legend even has it that the god Odin, also known as long-beard as he had a big long beard, would lead a Wild Hunt through the sky every Yuletide. His role was to distribute gifts to his people. 

In time though, as the Gospel spread to these regions, this feast evolved to become a celebration of the birth of Jesus. About as early as 354 AD, the celebration of Christmas on the 25th December and the coming of Christ was an official part of the Christian calendar. Yuletide celebrations such as gift giving were re-orientated around the idea of Christ as a gift to the world.

Around this same time, in Asia Minor, lived a man called Saint Nicholas. St Nicholas was a godly man and used his entire inheritance to help the poor, sick, and children in need. He gave in secret, expecting nothing in return. Among other things Nicholas saved young women from slavery, protected sailors, spared innocents from execution, provided grain in a famine and rescued a kidnapped boy.

In his most famous exploit, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the girls' plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house.

One version has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throwing the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes of age. Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. Nicholas learns of the poor man's plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.

In time though, Saint Nicholas and his legend merged and evolved with Odin and his legend, to become Father Christmas, Santa Clause, the man with the white beard in the red suit, who lives in the North Pole, flies through the sky on a sleigh and drops gifts down chimneys.

So you've got a Christian bishop who over time as become a magical figure in a red suit. And then you've got a Yuletide Winter Solstice Festival that has become the Christian Christmas, our celebration of the birth of the Saviour. And of course, our 21st Century as seen Christmas commercialized like never before. Pause.  

There is a real blurring of the mystery, the magic, the merriment and the meaning of Christmas.   

But hasn't this always been the case at Christmas? Even at the first Christmas?

- Wise men, Magi from the East, astrologers following star signs.
- Shepherds having supernatural encounters with choirs of angels.
- Jewish expectation that a Messiah was to come who would overthrow Roman oppression and re-establish the throne of David and Jewish rule.
- Herod and the rest of Jerusalem being frightened by reports that a new king had been born; Herod because he is an imposter and has no legitimate claim to the throne, Jerusalem because they are fearful that this could arouse the anger of the Roman Empire.
- Reports though that this new king has been born in Bethlehem of all places, in a manger, with animals, without the pomp and ceremony that one would expect.
- Reports that he is going to save people from their sins.
- A plot to murder this new king ASAP.

Imagine Bethlehem locals at the time, the tanner and his wife that life across the road from the inn without any room. What's going on? What's the meaning of this? How do we figure this out?

Questions that we're still asking 2000 years on amongst crackers, carols, Santa, stockings, trees, tinsel, ham, turkey, differed payments, presents, pressures, nativity scenes, candy canes, Christian rhymes, elves, eggnog, baby Jesus, wise men, the Christmas Grinch. What are we to do with Christmas? What are we to do with the Christ-child, Jesus? Pause.

* At one end of the spectrum some see Christmas as something to be endured, or to 'get through', or even something to be ignored.

I read this week of one Christian declaring their not going to be celebrating Christmas this year as the date for Christmas was chosen to line up with the pagan festival of winter solstice and they are endeavouring to line up their life with biblical standards not questionable traditions.

And yet Christmas is the redeeming of a pagan festival in order to celebrate Christ. It is a legit as it gets.

* At the other end of the spectrum some simply conform to the culture of Christmas as marketed to us by popular media and multi-nationals... struggle to give the right gifts, have the right stuff, throw the right kind of party. Have just the 'right kind of Christmas.'

* There is a third option though, neither disengagement nor whole hearted embrace, each December we can chose to re-tell the Christmas story for what it is: a promise of hope, peace, joy and love, the coming of Christ into our story to set things right.

Each December we can set up an Advent Wreath and light candles and re-tell the story. We can sing carols that remind us of the reason for the season. He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found. We can pack up the kids and take them off to 'The Road to Bethlehem' or on the Christmas lights trail and call in at the various churches that participate and look at the manger scenes and ask questions and tell stories as we drive around.

Rather than fight against Santa or Rudolph or the Elves we can talk about the greatest gift of all. We talk about the reality that every good deed, good thought, good gesture, good intention, good action is ultimately an echo of God's life and God's generosity towards us.

Generosity ultimately displayed in the giving of his only Son, that whoever would put their faith and trust in Jesus would find true life.

But he came in controversial circumstances, a young women betrothed but not married, a challenge to the throne of Herod, a disturber of the peace, without pomp and ceremony. There is a degree of mystery. There is a degree of confusion.

Years on people are still asking, John the Baptist of all people is asking - are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?

Years on we all to often ask the same question. We want Jesus of course to be the Messiah, the Saviour, the answer. And we know of course that he is. And we know enough of the Christmas story to know that he doesn't come as we might always like and hope and expect, or on our time frames.

But all too often we find ourselves looking for other Saviours. More convenient Saviours. More timely Saviours.

Chocolate. A cold beer. A sleep in. A new car. A different house. A career change. A new medicine. A pay rise. Lotto. A new relationship. A new wife, a new husband. A holiday. Time spent on the beach, time spent in a novel. A charismatic leader to follow. Some success. Some fame. Some fortune.

Saviours that are more readily available, more tangible, more suited for our instant gratification. As we get more tired throughout the year it is even tempting to look to Christmas as a saviour rather than the Christ of Christmas.

Is Jesus the one or should we look for another? Jesus answers Johns disciples, essentially, well you figure it out. People can see, people are walking differently, people are being made whole, people are hearing with clarity, people that were dead all over have found a reason to live, there is good news for the poor.

He changes everything. We just all too often fix our eyes on the wrong thing.


And so we light the Christ candle this morning as well. Normally you'd wait till Christmas day, but we won't be here. It's Christmas, Christ as come, the light of the world. 

When you survey your life today, your hopes, your longings, your heartaches, areas where you need a miracle, where you need healing, where you need answers or hope or peace... It's tempting to look at the small flicker of the what candle and conclude that off the things that Christmas could bring, this is actually the last thing you need.

And yet Christ brings hope, peace, joy and love.

He is the bread of life, you eat and are hungry no more. We eat up at Christmas but it doesn't satisfy.
He has water that we drink and we thirst no more. We drink at Christmas. Some will have headaches. We'll be thirsty again.
He is the light of the world and in him there is no darkness.

We celebrate Jesus birth at Christmas of course. Really though we celebrate that it actually possible for us to experience new birth, new life, new hope, new peace, new joy, new possibility.

Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth.
Born to give them second birth.
Hark the herald angels sing.
Glory to the new-born king.


I don't know your situation, your circumstances, your pain, your joy, your heartache, your hope this Christmas. He does. We're going to take communion this morning and as we do I want this to be an opportunity for you to invite Christ afresh into your world....

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Third Sunday of Advent @ St Luke's

St Luke's - 3rd Sunday of Advent - 15th December 2013:

Introduction to Advent:

Week three of Advent. 10 more sleeps go. Christmas trees are up, Christmas CD's are out. Christmas movies are playing - Home Alone, Jingle all the Way, Die Hard. We're closer still again. We're counting down.

And here at St Luke's we're journeying towards Christmas and we're making sure we're mindful of the reason for the season, making sure were mindful of the hope, peace, joy and love that Christmas promises in Jesus Christ.

Christmas Reorientation: (stand and read aloud together)

Christmas is coming
Some see this as "the silly season" - as a
time of stress and anxiety
We chose though, not to be consumed by the consumerism.
Christmas is the coming of Christ into the world
Rather than be frantic, we will be still.
We celebrate Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. Everywhere.
A new way of living, a new day has dawned
Though there may be darkness, The Light has come.
We remember that Christmas is hope, peace, joy and love
Christmas is Christ.

Advent Wreath and Candles:

As we get closer to Christmas, each Sunday we're also lighting another candle in our Advent wreath. The light of Christ is coming into the world.

The four candles around the outside represent hope, peace, joy and love; and then in the middle we have a white Christ candle.

We don't light them all at once though, rather we light them one at a time, as we journey towards the coming of Christ into the world. In doing so we remember the waiting of Advent, we'd love to rush the work of Jesus in our lives and in our world, but all to often waiting is involved.

The light gets brighter and brighter as we journey forwards though.

Today's candle is pink, pink is the colour of joy, the colour of rejoicing.

So this morning I need three kids to come and give me a hand...

Joy - Based on Isaiah 35: (one person leads and everyone else joins in)

Lead: The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like spring flowers it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.
All: Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 
Lead: Then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. 
All: And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing. 
Lead: Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness.
All: Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. He will wipe away every tear. Goodwill and joy to all!
Joy to the World - Issac Watts
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
- Charles Wesley 
Oh Come All Ye Faithful
- John Francis Wade
Adults verse Children Christmas Quiz:
The bible teaches that the wise men returned to their homeland glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen? False – the bible teaches that the shepherds went back to their fields saying this, Luke 2:20.KIDS: On Christmas Day, what would you find a joke inside of? Christmas cracker.
ADULTS: How many wise men visited Jesus? No specific number is given.KIDS: How many doors of an advent calendar would you open before Christmas Day arrives? 24
ADULTS: In Christian tradition what are the names of the supposed three wise men? Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar.KIDS: What gifts did the three wise men take to baby Jesus? Gold, frankincense and myrrh.
ADULTS: Santa has nine reindeer, can you name them all? Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and the last but not least Rudolph!!!!KIDS: What type of food is typically left out for Santa on Christmas Eve? Cookies and milk.
 ADULTS: Tim Allen stars in three The Santa Clause Movies, number one was The Santa Clause, number three was The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. What was number two? The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs Clause.KIDS: What native New Zealand tree is referred to as New Zealand's Christmas Tree? The Pohutakawa
ADULTS: What line in Away in a Manger is considered by some to be heresy? No crying he makes.KIDS: Is the Christmas Carol Hark the Herald Angels sing nearly 200 years old or nearly 300 years old? Nearly 300 years. Written 1739.

There is a Saint that Santa Clause / Father Christmas might be named after, Saint who? Saint Nicholas.ADULTS: Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of 7 different things, name two of them? Sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, children, pawnbrokers and students in various cities and countries around Europe.

ADULTS: What where Christmas trees traditionally decorated with prior to the 18th Century? Edibles such as apples, nuts and dates and also candles.
Traditionally which is true, you set your Christmas tree up 12 days before Christmas or, you pack your Christmas tree up 12 days after Christmas? Set up or pack up? Pack up.
ITEM: Oh Holy Night - Adolphe Adam
Sermonette: (Lisa McAuley)

It is the 3rd Sunday of Advent!  We have chatted about peace and hope, my task at hand is to spend this next 15 or so minutes talking about joy!

First, though, we are going to watch a clip, not about joy, in fact its quite the opposite. Sometimes the best way to describe/ define  something is to explore its opposite, its antonym.

When I was pondering the meaning of  joy and what it really was and what it looked like, what it smelt like and then what was what joys opposing force, "depression" was the best description for me of what was essentially the opposite of joy.

I really appreciated that clip, gave me a greater understanding of depression and its knock on effects. That story of the black dog and that particular man's journey, Matt Johnstone, had some lines that stood out to me...

            - surprise you with visits
            - no rose coloured glasses, black dog classes
            - Devoid of feeling
            - Isolated you
            - Lost your joy, what was the point of life
            - Missed out on life

I haven't personally  suffered from depression but  so often I have heard it described as that cloud that follows you, seems relentless in its perusal of you and the result  is the loss of happiness, feeling and meaning.

I'm sure a lot of people can relate to that, have related to that or know someone who perhaps deals with depression on a daily basis.

At times depression has become a bit of a catch line, "I'm so depressed, I'm having such a bad hair day", "I'm so depressed, we lost the cricket again". That's not depression but more the roller coaster of life and our emotions. "I'm so happy, got an hour to have a coffee kid free but then  I'm mad that was the worst coffee ever, but the I'm happy again because I am off to go down town to buy a friend a present to I'm angry because I got back to my car and had a parking meter ticket but then I am happy because a friend had a baby but then I'm sad because someone I loved is distant."

On that roller coaster as well as being the minor twists and turns there will always be the extreme highs and the very low lows. The happiness and the sadness and the madness and the gladness are all determined by those external forces/circumstances and there is usually a time frame attached.

Depression though is something that hangs over you, that journeys with you. If depression can be described as the black dog / cloud that hangs over you - state of being,  the same came be said when it comes to joy.

Joy is that combined sense of peace, hope, love and possibility that journeys with you throughout the full spectrum of circumstances we experience in life.

And, though perhaps that may seem like a possibility too good to be true, especially if depression is something you're dealing with in life, Christmas is a time where we celebrate that  in Christ, joy is possible, joy can be found.

The true source of unrivalled joy was birthed in this very season. Thank God it's Christmas.

Luke 2:4-12
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first born, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Christ is about to enter the story.

God wasn't content to let humanity live on in hopelessness but rather invade our world in order that peace, hope, love and joy might be true realities in our lives. The angels declared that this baby lying in a manger was a cause for great joy for all people. A Saviour has come. One that rescues. One that heals. One that lifts you out of the mud and mire and sets your feet upon a rock.

Grace. Forgiveness. Healing. Hope. Possibility. A today worth getting up for and a tomorrow worth getting up for. Peace that surpasses all understanding. Strength in our weakness. Pain that will be exchanged for joy.

Joy, hope, peace and love are not fluffy ideas that make for popular tattoos - sure realities that are found in Christ.

Psalm 28
The Lord is my strength, my shield from every danger. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me and my heart is filled with joy.

Like depression is the cloud, joy is an abiding sense of happiness, though there might be moments or seasons of sadness, even these are tempered with a confident expectation that the sun will soon return piercing the darkness caused by the passing clouds. So much so, that it is possible to have deep joy even amidst the grey clouds of life, before the sun comes through. 

Now I don't say all of this today as a suggestion for a quick and easy step to deal with depression, put your tree up, turn the lights on, sing some carols, eat some Christmas fruit mince tarts and you'll be away laughing.

Rather though, I say this so that we might all be reminded that...
We stand together with those of you that suffer from depression or anxiety on a daily basis.
We stand together with those of you that have had a bad day, a bad week, a bad year.
Those of you that are feeling tired or worn out.
Those of you that are feeling lost this Christmas. Away from home. Missing a loved one that cant be with you due to geographical distance or a loved one that has passed on.
And of course those that feel like everything is ticking along beautifully in life at the moment, 2013 has been a great year, maybe your best yet.

I say this so that we might all look at the small flickering light of the Advent wreaths 'joy' candle, and be reminded of where joy ultimately comes from, Christ not circumstances. And, that even if for you things feel dark at the moment, that you'd be reminded that only a little light is needed to make inroads against the darkness.

May this Christmas might we be mindful that the coming of Christ is not only a reason to have joy, but the true foundation of joy.

The same charge Nehemiah gave to the Israelites I give to you today.

Nehemiah 8:10
“Go home and prepare a feast, holiday food and drink; and share it with those who don’t have anything: This day is holy to God. Don’t feel bad. The joy of God is your strength!”

Some of you are particularly 'Christmas' and your house looks like the north pole, lights everywhere.....etc. Fantastic.

Some of you though that's not your thing. It doesn't have to be. Perhaps this week though you could light a solitary candle. A joy candle. Be reminded this Christmas that a little light is all that is needed

Joy isn't being happy even when Snoopy's Christmas is playing. 
Joy is not the expression on your face but the hope you have in your heart.
It's peace dancing and it is found in Christ.

Close in prayer.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Second Sunday of Advent @ St Luke's

St Luke's - 2nd Sunday of Advent - 8th December 2013:

Introduction to Advent:

So we're in the second week of Advent, we're journeying towards Christmas. We're closer than we we're last Sunday but we're not there yet. We're waiting... Still waiting...

We're learning patience. We're learning to reflect on what really matters. What is most important. What is actually life giving but hidden and what is obvious but often draining.

Miroslav Volf, a famous Croatian theologian posted this on Facebook the other day in regards to the first Advent and countdown to Christmas... "When Emmanuel came, he disappointed the expectations of many; they failed to see that the reality was better than their expectations."

2000 years later, this is all to often, still the reality for many. Unmet expectations and a failure to see that the reality of Christmas is better than their expectations. Advent is a chance to orientate towards Christmas, the true meaning of the season. And of course, at the same time, to reset expectations in the right direction.

Christmas Reorientation: (stand and read together)

Christmas is coming
Some see this as "the silly season" - as a
time of stress and anxiety
We chose though, not to be consumed by the consumerism.
Christmas is the coming of Christ into the world
Rather than be frantic, we will be still.
We celebrate Jesus, Immanuel, God with us. Everywhere.
A new way of living, a new day has dawned
Though there may be darkness, The Light has come.
We remember that Christmas is hope, peace, joy and love
Christmas is Christ.

Christmas Wreath and Candles:

As a part of Advent each year we set up an Advent Wreath with five candles. The four candles around the outside represent hope, peace, joy and love; and then in the middle we have a white Christ candle.

We don't light them all at once though, rather we light them one at a time, as we journey towards the coming of Christ into the world. In doing so we remember the waiting of Advent, we'd love to rush the work of Jesus in our lives and in our world, but all to often waiting is involved.

The light gets brighter and brighter as we journey forwards though.

(invite two kids to come and light last weeks candle and also this weeks candle)

Wait for the Lord - Based on Psalm 27: (one person leads and everyone joins in)

Lead: The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
All: The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? 
Lead: I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. 
All: Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage. 
Lead: Wait for the LORD!
All: Wait for the LORD and be at peace.


Joy to the World - Issac Watts
Oh Come all ye Faithful - John Francis Wade
Sing Out - Unpublished St Luke's original
Praise the Lord Coda - Edge Kingsland

Interactive: (charades in small groups with particular focus on including kids and interacting with kids)

1. Away in a Manger 
2. Mistletoe and Wine
3. Frosty the Snowman
4. Three Kings from the East
5. Santa Sack
6. A Partridge in a Pear Tree
7. No room in the inn
8. The First Noel
9. Christmas Lights Trail
10. The Grinch

Sermonette: (Joseph McAuley)

So it's the second Sunday of Advent and we continue our countdown to Christmas. We count down to the coming of Christ into the world. We count down to greatest and grandest interruption in human history. Immanuel, God with us, Jesus entering our story and changing everything.

We orientate around Jesus coming 2000 years ago.
Not as expected. Not in majesty. In humility, a baby born in a manger.
But in doing so we look forwards to the coming of Jesus coming into our world today.
We look forward to the reality of Christ coming into and working in our lives and midst today.  

This is of course is the main thing we count down to in our Christmas celebration but it isn't the only thing.

We all countdown to different things; some that we look forward to but also others that are more difficult to navigate. Some of you are perhaps waiting to open intriguing packages. Packages wrapped brightly and sitting under the Christmas tree or hidden in a wardrobe. You might have intriguing packages you've wrapped and your waiting for kids to open them and be delighted. 

Others are looking forward to waking up in a house where all the beds are once again full, with children and grandchildren that have come home for the holidays. 

Maybe you've had a baby this year and you're counting down to their first Christmas, you're counting down to your own real life nativity scene.

For others here though, I know this is a difficult time of year and you look forward with apprehension.

Perhaps there won't actually be presents under the tree this year, or at least not the kind you'd like.

For some there is an empty chair to deal with, a space at the table that won't be taken. There is a stocking that will stay packed away in the box this year. 

The rituals and celebrations of Christmas are so often designed for two or more and yet this Christmas perhaps it's starting to sound like one hand clapping and it's just not the same.

Christmas for some is the season when you wait to see if the hurt has let up any from this time last year. You want it to so that you can get on with your life. At the same time, you don't want it to, scared it might mean you've stopped caring.

For good or for ill, Christmas functions like a time machine that takes us back to every other Christmas you've had.

- you think of things that were that you hope to replicate and create again
- you think of things that were and that won't ever be again
- you think of things that were supposed to be but actually never were, ways in which Christmas failed to be what you hoped or expected it to be.

Christmas is a mixed bag for all and thus it's no wonder there is a hum, an atmosphere, a buzz at Christmas. 

Christmas is a space in time where our dreams and memories and longings and heartaches come to the surface. Our hopes and fears for all the years are met in thee tonight.

There is this idea that in amongst the good, the bad or the ugly, the possibility of hope, peace, joy and love exits. It's in the air; there is something in the air.

Francesca Battistelli puts it quite well in her song Heaven Everywhere...

I hear the bells, they’re ringing loud and clear. You can’t help but love this time of year. It’s Christmas time, there’s something in the air. There’s a little bit of heaven everywhere. Somehow there’s a little more of love. And maybe there’s a little less of us. Or maybe we’re just slightly more aware. There’s a little bit of heaven everywhere.'

You get a sense of this at Christmas. Even in the ordinariness, even in what we might describe as the secular rather than the sacred.

- The pictures and images that marketers offer us of families holidaying, of Christmas dinners being enjoyed.
- The aimless wanderings through shopping malls when you've forgotten what you're looking for and for who.
- High school kids, exams finished, holidays started, clogging up the beaches, Starbucks and the cinema.
- Staff break ups and parties. 

Many of course sense this but put it down to the festivities of the season which brings out the best in people. It's holiday time. The year is nearly done. They'll be presents, food, and drink. Time to make merry and be merry.

I however, to use the words of Aslan in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, am convinced that Christmas celebrates - a deeper magic from before the dawn of time.

"... though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards."

Christmas celebrates the birth of the one in whom there is no treachery.
The one in who being without sin decides not to cast a stone. Decides not to condemn.
The one who lays down his life in order that others would find life.
The one in whom the curse of death is reversed and in who resurrection life comes.

Christmas is the celebration that a deeper magic is at work in the world; Christ as come.   

Christmas reminds us that the coming of Jesus makes a difference and can make a difference today. 

And so, in amongst the hustle and bustle of Christmas.
The Christmas carols and the Christmas chaos.
The merry making and the migraine managing.
We hope to experience, to taste, to rest in the hope, the peace, the joy, the love, of Christ. 

However different Christmas is for each of us, we all wish for, hope for, look for this time of year to be a moment where we are calmer, more centred, more at ease with ourselves, with others, with Christ.

We hope to rise up above any heartaches of the year just gone.
We hope to keep our head up above water.
We hope to step up out of the silliness of the season.
We hope that Christ this Christmas can somehow lift us up out of all the 'stuff' even if just for a moment of peace, a moment of transcendence, to a place where the veil between heaven and earth is thin and everything is beautiful and focused and just right. Just right, like a Christmas card!

In reality though, even the pictures on our Christmas cards are just moments caught in time. If we could see past the edges we would probably see some pretty familiar sights. If we could rewind a little or fast forward a little we'd discover the picture quickly changes.

Like the family photo you have that is just right. Mum and Dad yelling at the kids, threatening, promising, bribing. Quickly now, smile, snap, great photo, back to craziness.

What I'm getting at is that even the very best Christmas cards, even the very best paintings of the Christmas scene, Emmanuel, God with us, baby Jesus and his family, the ones where the artist has really focused on the softness of the baby's skin, the warm bodies of the animals standing around him heating the air with their breath, even those pictures do not tell the whole story.

The story is really more like the messiness of life that we all know and experience.
The town was clogged with travellers, none their by choice.
The emperor wanted them all counted and taxed and couldn't have cared less where they slept.
Accommodation is at a premium. In fact it's all booked.
Joseph like to be 'spontaneous' and hasn't jumped on to book ahead.
Mary about to go into labour ends up in a manger with a feeding trough and farm animals.
The baby is born and wrapped.
And then a photo is quickly taken (or imagined).

Starlight streaming down.
Ox and donkey are watching.
Goats of to the side.
Dog is sitting still.
Doves up on the shelf.
Mary, I know, isn't looking like Lisa was after she'd just given birth, Mary's got it on, Revlon and all.  She's positively glowing.

I wish there was a follow up scene.

Goats start on the basket of food.
Dog starts up at the sheep.
Donkey and ox starting trying to eat the hay and get the corner of the blanket in their mouth.
Doves flutter and poo on Joseph's shoulder.
Baby starts crying. Mary starts crying. She wants her mum. Joseph is doing his best. They're both hurting and a bit worried and cold.

Where is God?

Well God is still right there, in Jesus, right in the middle of everything.
Hope, peace, joy and love.
In the peaceful manger scene.
In the more realistic manger scene.
In the best of times and in the worst of times. Jesus has entered the story and the story has changed forever.  

It's God with us. Not God up there somewhere who answers our prayers by lifting us up out of our lives, but the God who comes to us in the midst of them, however ever far from home we are, however less than ideal our circumstances, however much or little our lives reflect the Christmas cards we send and receive.

Christmas doesn't lift us up out of our circumstances.
Christmas isn't a way of masking and covering over the daily realities of normal life.
Christmas is Christ coming right into the midst of our lives.

We find hope and peace and joy and love, but not as we might have prayed for or expected.
Not in escaping our lives but in allowing Christ into them all over again.

There are no escalators to heaven at Christmas.
Everybody 'up there' is coming down, to here, to this place, to this context, to this world, to these circumstances, into our stories, the good parts, the bad parts, the orderly parts and the mixed up and muddled parts.

At Christmas we discover that God has come to make his home in our arms.
We discover that Bethlehem is wherever we are on Christmas day.
Whether we find ourselves having booked luxury accommodation or whether we find ourselves in a less than ideal stable. 

Charles Spurgeon said that - 'Joy is peace dancing and that peace is joy resting.'

This Sunday of Advent is about joy at rest, it's about peace.
Something that in life can be all to illusive.

Can I encourage you to take a moment to be still and discover peace this week.
Hustle and bustle and craziness and a Christmas countdown and things that need organising and, and, and...

Be still, shut the noise out, poor a glass of wine, turn all the lights off except the Christmas tree.

You might at first simply discover yourself; anxiety, worry, doubts, fears, all sorts of ways in which you actually enjoy the noise more than the silence and the hustle more than the peace.

But if you be still a little longer, maybe with a carol playing super quietly in the background, you'll discover that at Christmas, even as at the Cross, there is a deeper magic going on. That God's heart, God's desire, is to enter into your world, into your story and ultimately bring hope, peace, joy and love. 

Be still and know. Hope, joy, love and peace are found him tonight.

Grace and peace.  

(Special thanks to Barbara Brown Taylor for contributing some of the shape and phrases of this talk. Home By Another Way (chp - Past Perfection).