Readings:     Micah 5: 2 – 8    Luke 1: 39 – 45

SERMON

Haul out the holly; put up the tree before my spirit falls again.
Fill up the stocking, I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.
For we need a little Christmas, right this very minute,
candles in the window, carols at the spinet.
Yes, we need a little Christmas, right this very minute.
It hasn't snowed a single flurry, but Santa, dear, we're in a hurry.

So climb down the chimney; put up the brightest string of lights I've ever seen.
Slice up the fruitcake; it's time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough.
For I've grown a little leaner, grown a little colder,
grown a little sadder, grown a little older,
and I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder,
need a little Christmas now.

For we need a little music, need a little laughter,
need a little singing, ringing through the rafter,
and we need a little snappy "Happy ever after,"
need a little Christmas now.


“We Need a Little Christmas”, from the Broadway musical “Mame” by Jerry Herman.


This is a toe tapping song – one to sing along to – that is until you actually read the lyrics. But most of the time we don’t really listen closely, do we? We just sing along, smiling and tapping our toes, right?

Around this time of year, people often become depressed. Particularly if there has been a loss, there are questions about life, and faith. Does God really exist, was Jesus real, if the stories in the Bible are allegory and myth, what can we believe?

There’s a sadness, and even a little despair, hidden in this Christmas song....

“For I've grown a little leaner, grown a little colder,
grown a little sadder, grown a little older,
and I need a little angel sitting on my shoulder,
need a little Christmas now.”


Behind all the activity of Christmas, these are really the questions. Even people for whom religion doesn’t play much of a role ask the questions about Christmas. Was it real? Did Jesus exist? How do we know?

I don't think these are the right questions to ask. But let’s take a little side-trip into some of the parts of the Christmas story. Some of the things we have taken as literal are a long stretch from any reality. First, the date of December 25 isn’t the date of Jesus birth. Eastern churches celebrate it in January on the feast of Epiphany; in the second century, Clement of Alexandria pegged it as either April or May. The date we have was chosen by Constantine in the fourth century - an emperor who, at the time, was not a believer and wasn’t baptised.

Nothing in the Gospels suggests Joseph was an old man. He might have been older than Mary, who was likely about 14, but that would not make him OLD. Nothing says Jesus shared a stable with animals, and nowhere does it say the Magi, who arrived two years after the birth, were kings. Mark’s Gospel - the oldest - doesn’t mention the birth of Jesus at all, and neither does John. The conception of Jesus is announced to Mary in Luke, but only to Joseph in Matthew.

Is this what is really the important thing, though? Isn’t it possible to recognise all the little stories of Christmas as part of the big story which has grown up over the years around Christmas? What was really important? To each of the authors of the four Gospels, the important thing was that they all believed Jesus was really the Messiah, whom the prophets foretold. Each of the Gospels was written to point to Jesus as the one.

And central to all of them was one major theme - hope. Hope in the face of great loss, hope in a future, hope in a life different from this earthly one, hope for a new kind of justice and compassion, hope for the coming of God’s realm in the here and now.

The Prophet Micah would recognise us and our time. He wrote to a nation in distress. Jerusalem was under siege, the economy was in tatters, the king had been humiliated, the people saw little hope. Micah sees that there is more to our existence than what we can see. There is also what God sees, and what God is promising to do. In spite of distress and despair everywhere, the messenger testifies to God’s future, which we may not see now, but which is promised.

We have something in common with the people of Micah's day. Many live in fear. We look, not to ourselves, but towards the seats of power for rescue, trusting that our leaders will meet our needs and the needs of the most vulnerable among us. We look to established professionals to protect us from perceived threats that make us feel vulnerable. We look for glib answers, that save us from having to grapple with the tough questions.

Rev. Judith Evenden, says “Micah is jumping up and down, desperately waving his arms and pointing us to a small, out of the way place in a town called Bethlehem”, where Hope would be born.

Funny how Micah knows us. Micah knows the ache in which we live today. Micah tells us that God is at work; in the nooks and crannies of the world, the towns and the villages, the refugee camps and the slums. God is at work among the homeless and the hopeless and the poor. God's activity is found off the map in the stables of the world. But Micah also tells us God’s activity can be found in us, if we let it.

The Hope which was born, the Love which was born, continues to be born into the world. Mary’s joy at having a child, and feeling that this child would do great things which would change the world - that is the Hope. The birth of that child was the Hope, and that is why we have Christmas stories – myths though they often are, are so enduring.

This is the message of Christmas: that human beings have been impregnated with God's peace and love. Each child born into this world has great potential just as Jesus did, for each human is a beloved child of God. It doesn't matter where we are born, or to whom we are born.

The question to be asked is this: are we going to receive God anew at Christmas, to have God - Emmanuel - born in us? If we say yes, then are we ready and willing to be God's gift of hope and love to the world? Are we willing to let something be born in us this Christmas? And then are we willing to share ourselves as a God-given gift to the world?

We need a little music, need a little laughter,
need a little singing, ringing through the rafter,
We need a little Christmas now.

Acknowledgements: Rev. Judith Evenden; Rev. David Shearman; Geza Vermes