Rev. Rosemary Webb
1st January 2017
The Challenge For Us

Well, I was going to start by wishing you a Happy New Year, but on second thoughts, I think I would rather wish you a Peaceful 2017, for without peace and reconciliation I do not think there can be happiness, and after last year who knows what 2017 will bring?

In the church the beginning of the New Year starts with the feast of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus. In the law of the Old Testament, the circumcision was the sign of the covenant with God, and in Genesis it is written ‘An infant of eight days shall be circumcised. And my covenant shall be in your flesh for a perpetual covenant.’

The Gospel reading began by reminding us of last Sunday, of the shepherds being called by the angels to go and see the baby Jesus in Bethlehem, and how the shepherds then spread the good news of our Saviours birth. Then we have the last verse – ‘after eight days, the time came to circumcise the baby. He was called by the name Jesus, which the angel had given him before he had been conceived in the womb.’ Already we can see that Jesus’ life was following the prophesies of the Old Testament.

To me one of the sadness’s of this season is that so many people who last week were happy, even enthusiastic about celebrating Jesus’ birth, have already, if not actually lost interest in his birth, have gone back to their usual routines, actually, I suppose they have lost interest, for there are so many other things which demand their attention and can seem more important.

Those first few days wouldn’t have been an easy for Mary and Joseph, anyone who has had children knows the anxieties that can go with childbirth. And as much as they must have welcomed the arrival of the shepherds with their good wishes, it must have brought home to them just how different their lives were going to be. For they had been told the tiny scrap of humanity lying in a manger was God, that their baby was part of an extraordinary plan to save the world. However tired they felt they had to remember whilst he was visually a baby like any other he was God, he was born that we might have salvation, and that they had been entrusted with his human development from child to man. What a responsibility that was.

Jesus was born into a troubled world, the Jewish nation was under Roman domination, and Herod their own leader was a cruel leader. Sadly any children born into the world last week were born into an equally troubled world, I am starting this sermon on Wednesday and I received two messages on Facebook this morning (Holy Innocents Day) about our world. One telling me that 2016 has been the worst year for children suffering the consequences of conflict since WW2 – an unbelievable 250 million children, and the second a message from the Archbishop of Canterbury quoting St Paul where has tells his readers ‘be the teachers of my way – which is peace, justice and love; not violence bitterness and conflict.’

Let us hope and pray that politicians worldwide will heed the words of St Paul instead of encouraging division and anger, by mocking and humiliating people who they perceive as different. And to make matters even worse some of these politicians are saying they are Christian – how can they equate their views with Jesus’ command that we should love one another. It seems at times that the more hateful the words the more attractive they are to some people.

When we think about it why didn’t God choose the politicians of the time to go and see Jesus – was he worried that the message would lose its meaning, that politicians would somehow turn into their own good.

When he chose the shepherds God knew that they were trustworthy and reliable, if they weren’t they would have never coped with the demands of the job, and he knew the interest they generated by telling their story would be genuine not attention seeking. Yes, shepherds in a field were chosen to show love to Mary and Joseph, to be faces of friendship but most importantly to tell the good news to the people of Bethlehem, to be the first messengers.

One of the aspects of this passage which always impacts on me is that Mary and Joseph knew who Jesus was, and yet they still saw the need to keep to the Jewish tradition of naming and circumcising on the eighth day. They didn’t think they were somehow above such things.

They saw the need for Jesus, who they knew was the one true God, to identify with all who believe in God. And this is what we are called to do. We are called to have the humility and faith of the shepherds and the determination and bravery of Mary and Joseph. All who are Baptised, the New Covenant, are called to spread the Word, to proclaim the Gospel to stand up for the truth.

Just as Mary and Joseph saw the need to keep to the Jewish tradition, how much more do we need to keep to the Christian tradition, the way of truth. To make sure that today’s children are told the truth, told that this baby whose birth we are celebrating came to earth to save us, that through giving his life on the cross he bought for us the promise of salvation. Jesus is not just a God who stands idly by, he comes and dwells among us, and identifies himself with us in the very ways that the faithful always have.

But in identifying with us, there is something more. There is the promise that comes in his naming – He is the I AM who saves us; who delivers His people. He identifies with us, so that he can do that very thing.

God wants all his children to love him and to be in communion with him and with each other. To this end I believe that God still calls us to be not just part of our earthly families but also part of church communities, where we can support each other in our desires to move into a closer communion with God.

Through the Covenants of the Old Testament God has called his children to work together, to trust in him and accept his forgiveness and love, then through his love for his children he sent Jesus the fulfilment of his promise . Jesus Christ is, has become himself the New Covenant. And it is our calling to still follow in the tradition to call people to join the Church family so that we can support each other, not just against people of violence but also against the atheists who quietly work away trying to undermine faith by accusing us of being prejudiced, or saying we are unloving. We need to answer them back with one voice; we need the bravery and commitment of Mary and Joseph, their strength of faith. They were alone and young but they had the faith to know that God would always be at their sides, he would never leave them. What a lesson they are to today’s church.

That is God’s wish for us, he is calling us to be true disciples, to work for the coming of the Kingdom. A time when terrorists would be unheard of, 250 million children living in fear would seem a totally impossible fact, for the world would be living in true unity and peace. Obeying God’s command that we should love him with all our hearts, and one another as we love ourselves. It would be God’s kingdom here on earth; the world would have achieved the goal that God has set us. That is the challenge we are being set, it is our challenge.

Luke 2:15-21