Rev. Andrew Cunnington
24th December 2019
The Government Shall be Upon His Shoulders

I like to walk down to Midnight Mass on my own and take my time to dawdle.

Looking at the lights that shine prettily amongst the garden hedges and dangle from the branches of the trees.

The Christmas trees that peep from behind partly drawn curtains and the Christmas Number One hits that blare from a party going on a bit too late.

And from where I live I can look up beyond the town to the horizon of the North Downs, just to see if this year, I might be like a king come lately, and spot a new star weaving its way over Merstham until it comes to settle over – well over this church of course, and you and me gathered here.

As if together we might be a motley collection of shepherds, innkeepers and farm yard animals, with our fingers firmly set in this year’s stable scene.

For the true message of Christmas makes its fullest impact upon me when I have time to just walk along quietly. It comes as something whispered beneath the continual chatter of our days.

But if you dare to give yourself over to the magic of this night, then beware, for those who first greeted his holy birth had one thing in common. Their best laid plans were laid to waste.

Before the magic of this night began to work on him, Joseph had it all worked out.

When he heard that Mary was pregnant he planned to put her away quietly and he had just resolved to do this when an angel came to him in a dream and said …No! No! Please Joseph, stay with this girl. Marry this girl.

Before the magic of this night had its way with her Mary was just settling into normality. It’s likely that she had not been in Nazareth for many years – perhaps making her way there alone from Jerusalem where she was born. We don’t know if her parents even alive to travel with her?

Just when she found home in the snug little town that Nazareth was then, again an angel cut into her plans – don’t get too comfortable he said – for the child in your womb is the Son Of God and he will have you on the run for the next thirty years or more.

Before the magic of this night had its way with them Shepherds knew the drill of duty out on the windswept hills. Stay with your sheep at all times – that was the imperative – and as they gazed into the well known blackness of that local hill country – the sky was filled with angels – exhorting them to run to Bethlehem – leave their charges unprotected – to go and see – well the Lamb of God.

Before the magic of this night had its way with them – kings were on the way home from somewhere or other. Hatching out mutually beneficial trade agreements I shouldn’t wonder. It had been a lucrative time, that’s for sure, for their packs were overflowing with the treasures from the deals they had made.

In the still night, they saw a star never before glimpsed, and it caused them to change direction, to go to little Bethlehem and let those treasures overflow into the lap of a tiny Christ child and their kingships too.

The plans of all these were ruthlessly disrupted by the events of this holy night , for they gave far too much attention to its magic.

Prophets like Isaiah are full of wonderful words about the difference a Messiah was going to make.

Listen to our words from tonight.

Unto us a child is born, Unto us a Son is given – and the Government shall be upon his shoulders.

Now of all the poetry of Isaiah – this surely is the most preposterous.

He will go on to speak about the cow and the bear becoming friends – the lion playing over the hole of the asp – of swords being beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks…

But first this… a tiny child… born in a stable… the Government shall be upon his shoulders.

What Government is this? Surely not the one we have just elected? The latest combination of politicians determined to bring us to wealth and prosperity… and when it doesn’t fully happen – the next combination and the next and the next and the next. Each one falling short of fulfilment.

But of course the very fact that this birth happened in Bethlehem was because of a census that the whole world should be taxed. There were costed spending plans agreed even then and taxes would need to be levied in order to pay for everything.

The backdrop to the birth of Jesus was not so very different to our day and the call of the prophet is outrageous and deeply challenging – put your trust in Him – let the burdens of your day rest upon these tiny new born shoulders.

No wonder Herod was to have no truck with such crazy talk and determined to have such a mission obliterated before it had even got off the ground.

But this is not just about the Government of the nations – but that of our own lives too.

For each of us loves to Govern. We build around ourselves a walled city of our own opinions based upon our own experiences of life and the walls are thick and resistant to overthrow.

This is why we are inclined not to be still – because if the magic of this night got its hold on us we might have everything we held dear overturned too – Joseph’s hope for respectability, Mary’s desire for comfort, Shepherds needing to keep their jobs, Kings playing the markets of foreign cities.

And you and I joining that list – how would he have his way with us if we were to give ourselves over to the love this night unleashes.

But all these are just pretty little thoughts aren’t they. Just a rehash of Isaiah’s impossible dream.

But there is one thing I observe which makes the Governance of the Christ Child different from that of Kings and Emperors of Bethlehem’s day and the twenty first century politicians of our day. and it is this.

They work outwards from a position of power and wealth. The Lord Jesus works outwards from a position of weakness and poverty.

Authority figures of the day, any day, need a working majority a fully costed plan which needs a degree of wealth and a degree of control if their plans are to be implemented.

But Jesus doesn’t inhabit any of this. He begins in a stable, then to a wilderness, after that a quiet lakeside, a group of ignoramus disciples and most improbably of all, death on a cross.

The one with the Government upon his shoulders works from poverty outwards.

And such a thought might be too much to be contemplated. For us.

So we model ourselves in the way of the secular. Needing to be in control and looking to keep company only with the like minded.

But what if we allowed the Government of our lives to fall on his tiny shoulders. What that make of us. What would that make of his church.

I usually walk back home from Midnight Mass and dawdle as I go.

The lights will be lower and the streets will be more silent.

I will let myself into the sleeping vicarage but before I go to sleep I will try one more time to see if I can climb onto the shoulders of the new born Christ child… and let him govern a little bit more.

Shall we both try it.

ISAIAH 9: 2-7
Luke 2: 1-7