Reflection: Carol Service – 3rd Sunday in Advent, given by Revd Sue McCoan
John 1:1-5, Isaiah 61:1-4, Luke 1:47-55, Luke 2:3-12, Matthew 2:1-11.
There is something truly wonderful about Christmas. Even the most hard-bitten cynic can be moved to tears by a children’s nativity, or a brass band playing carols; even a die-hard atheist can be moved to acts of generosity ‘because it’s Christmas’. Amidst the commerce and the over-consumption, there is a groundswell of goodwill, as if people have been looking for an excuse to be kind to one another.
I’m not knocking that. Charities benefit enormously, and goodwill is always God’s will. But I wonder if, for some people, the reason it’s easy to be generous at Christmas is that we know it won’t last. After New Year, we’ll be back to work, and back to normal. The goodwill and the sentiment is put away along with the decorations, not to be needed until next year.
Our readings this morning remind us that the birth of Jesus is not just a lovely moment. It is the start of a revolution – a revolution that has been unfolding day after day, week after week, for the last 2,000 years.
The aim of the revolution is, to borrow a phrase from computer people, to restore the world to factory settings. To recreate the world as at the first creation, where every living creature, every system, works together in wholeness and harmony. To get back to the world as it was before human sin crept in.
For that to happen, it takes a lot of work. Human sin has got a strong hold. There needs to be a massive rebalancing of power. Don’t be fooled by ideas of gentle Mary, meekly saying yes – her song is dangerously radical. Bringing down the rich and powerful? Scattering the proud? This is fighting talk.
But it is not to be achieved by violent means.
It is to be achieved by a child, who takes on the very lowliness that he is going to champion. A child who is good news to the poor by being poor and vulnerable himself. A child who will defeat the forces of evil by letting them do their worst until they have no power left over him.
This is a very quiet revolution, a very gentle revolution. This is how God works, like the seed growing in the dark ground, like the yeast raising a loaf of bread. Sometimes, it might seem so subtle that we think nothing is happening at all, and we might be tempted to wander away and think that we, too, can put aside our faith after Christmas and just get on with life as normal.
But we are called to be part of this revolution. We are called to pay attention to the world as it is and the world as God wills it to be. We are called to recognise that sometimes we might be the proud who need our ideas scattering; we might be the rich who need to give up some of our privilege so that others have a fair chance in life. We are called to see where, as our last hymn puts it, God surprises earth with heaven, and shows us new ways of seeing the world.
So this Christmas, let’s by all means enjoy the sentiment, and the goodwill, and the nostalgia. Let’s enjoy our mulled wine and mince pies and all the treats of the festive season; let’s be lovely to our families and good to strangers. Let’s coo over the baby Jesus in the stable and delight in the nativity plays, no matter how inept. But let’s remember that this is only the beginning. To paraphrase the old Dogs Trust slogan: God is for life, not just for Christmas. That’s our challenge; that’s also our deep and real cause for celebration.