St. Andrew’s Church in Blackhill has a board with writing in large letters outside the building - what used to be known as a “Wayside Pulpit.” It’s a sort of static sandwich board on which the church can put up words for people to ponder as they go past. At the moment the board reads, “Christmas is not about our presents - it’s about Christ’s presence.” Something to think about - perhaps…
Christmas is about God coming into our world, the presence of his Son with us in human flesh just like our own. But we shouldn’t get too solemn about it and certainly not curmudgeonly. If we don’t enjoy the presents which people give us, then we’re rather missing out on the celebration. Whatever the gift may be, we’re to receive it with gratitude. If it comes as a surprise, our response shouldn’t be, “Oh no, I don’t get them a present.” It should be “thank you - how kind.” And if you want to put a religious spin on it, the gifts we receive point us to God’s great gift to us in Jesus. If we think we haven’t earned it, well that’s the whole message of Christmas - God comes to us and loves us, even though we don’t deserve it.
At this point I need to take a look at what I’m saying. Lamenting to a friend that I hadn’t wrapped any presents or even opened all my cards and that I still had a sermon to write, he replied: “I haven’t written one either, but it’s not as though people come for the sermon.” Well, maybe you have… But I’m encouraged by something I saw somewhere which sang the praises of carol-singing: “Carol services are a corrective to clerical over-interpretation of the Christmas story.” In other words people will find what they are looking for as they sing and worship - and clergy need to be aware that they might be trying to find things in the story which are simply never going to click. Just be open to the joy of Christmas - and share it.
So don’t get too serious... That’s the only encouragement I need to share with you some terrible Christmas jokes, though they may be better than the ones you get in your crackers.
What’s brown and creeps around the house?
What do you drain Christmas dinner brussel sprouts with?
An advent colander!
Have you heard the one about the Microsoft Advent Calendar?
It crashes every time you open the windows!
Around Christmas time each year my dad used to work in a tiddlywink factory. But he didn’t like it. He said it was counter productive.
What's the most popular wine at Christmas?
‘Do I have to eat my Brussel sprouts?’
What did the bald man say when he got a comb for Christmas?
Thanks, I'll never part with it!
Mum, Can I have a dog for Christmas?
No you can have turkey like everyone else!
What happens if you eat the Christmas decorations?
You get tinsel-itus!
Mother bought a huge turkey for Christmas dinner.
'That must have cost a fortune!' I said.
'Actually I got it for a poultry amount,' she said.
Doctor, Doctor I'm scared of Father Christmas.
Doctor: You're suffering from Claus-trophobia.
[Jokes courtesy of Grove Books December email - and I didn't use them all!]
That’s enough of those, I think. The great thing about a joke is when you don’t expect the punchline. It just takes you by surprise. The Virgin Mary expected that she would live out a quiet, hopefully contented, life in Nazareth with her husband-to-be, Joseph the Carpenter. They didn’t know that their whole lives would be disrupted by the message of the angel. Shepherds looked after their sheep by night - another cold night on a Judaean hillside, until they are roused by a chorus of angels. The message of the birth of God’s Son is given not to the priests of the Temple but to pretty rough-and-ready men who lived on the edges of respectable society. And when wise men in the East decide that a star in the sky means something special is going on, the surprise for them will be that the new-born King is not to be found in a palace in the capital city - he’s in a very ordinary dwelling in the humble backwater village of Bethlehem.
What is God’s surprise for you? St. John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus is the Word of God and the Light of the world:
10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him;
yet the world did not know him.
11 He came to what was his own,
and his own people did not accept him.
That’s the tragedy of the human story. That God’s love is held out for us as a gift, but so many of us think it can’t possibly be for us. Perhaps we think it will put us under some sort of obligation. Perhaps we just can’t believe that we’re good enough to receive it.
But the truth of Christmas is that God’s love is for all - for you, for me, for our families and friends… and for the people we don’t get on with as well, and even our enemies. God’s love is bigger than our presumptions, prejudices and sheer inability to comprehend. And it’s so big that it comes to us in one as small as a tiny baby.