Christmas Day “Sermon” by Rev Heston Groenewald

It came upon the midnight clear 
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to all,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Peace on the earth goodwill to all, from heaven’s all-gracious king – yes please! Because peace and goodwill are things we humans can’t seem to do without help. This feels especially true in these divided weeks after the general election. One day I suspect (I hope) we’ll look back at this point in (Anglo-American) history, and we’ll shake our heads in amazement. We’ll wonder how we got ourselves into such a mess; how we let our society get so ‘broken’; how we allowed our greed and pride and self-interest to go so totally haywire. 

We need a bit of hope to break into this craziness. And that is exactly what Christmas is all about. And that is exactly what this carol (It came upon the midnight clear) is all about. But I’m grateful that the hopefulness of our Christmas carols isn’t just blind optimism. I’m really grateful that many carols are written in a minor key – rather than whitewashing everything with jolly happy jingle bells. And their hopefulness faces up honestly to life’s difficulties and complications. In today’s ‘weary world and sad and lowly plains’ (austerity society? insane working hours/culture?) I’m grateful for the sobering side of Christmas. 

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its Babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

 At this point in history, I really need to hear the angels’ song- and I wonder if you do too?? I’m grateful to hear them sing that Jesus, who I love and serve and try to follow, was born in a barn, not a palace. 

I’m grateful that the first people to hear this good news were shepherds – outcasts – not the rich and powerful.

I’m grateful that strangers from the East – from a different religion and world view – were some of the first to perceive this good news, and to honour Jesus with their presence and presents. 

I’m grateful that the angels sang a song of peace to ALL people – but really it was only the sheep and the shepherds that witnessed it. 

I’m grateful for the sobering side of Christmas – the rough broken hurting realistic side.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And warring humankind hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise of mortal strife,
And hear the angels sing.

I’m grateful that God came to be *with us* – Immanuel – in human form, vulnerable as a baby, to share our humanity and all the mess and pain of life. 

I’m grateful to remember that for Jesus during his lifetime, there was neither fame nor power, wealth nor glory. That Jesus’ family was forced to flee to Egypt as refugees. That Jesus would grow up without a penny to his name. That Jesus would die as an enemy of the state, scorned by the crowds, and betrayed and abandoned by his friends and followers.

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

I’m so grateful to hear the angels sing about Immanuel – God with us in the reality of human life. He humbled himself to live and walk with us, to share our humanity – and to show us that human life can be a sharing in his divinity. If we are ready to let our self-seeking lives be turned upside down by the endless self-giving love of God. 

This is why God was born in our midst – to invite us back to the path of love which is the blueprint for our truest humanity – love for God, love for our neighbours, love for our enemies, and even love for ourselves. 

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And all the world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

In these crazy times we live in, I think the whole world needs to hear a Christmas song of peace and goodwill. So this coming year, let’s go share it with them! Let’s be angels (messengers from God) and LIVE this song in love generosity justice and joy. And for this morning, let’s be angels and SING this song of the hope we share: 

It came upon the midnight clear 
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace on the earth, goodwill to all,
From heaven’s all-gracious King.”
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

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