Children of God as a New Year dawns

Rev'd Sarah
Sunday, January 1, 2017 - 9:30am

Sermon – New Year’s Day 2017 – Children of God as a New Year dawns

Galatians 4:4-7.  Luke 2:15-21 ‘because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts’

I don’t know whether you hummed quietly to yourself in the bath or bellowed from a lamppost in Trafalgar Square last night a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, but a little Robbie Burns never comes amiss as the New Year dawns. The song opens of course with a question: should past or long-term relationships be forgot? As we look towards a fresh new year with the expectant hope of new beginnings, we are also in some sense adding a layer of separation from the past. Yet in the spirit of auld lang syne, we embrace the past as we celebrate the relationships that have meant much, and mean much, to us in our lives. In the freshness of the present, as the year turns, we carry with us into the future cherished relationships. 

In the words of the song, we take our cup of kindness, offering our hand of friendship out to another and accepting theirs. Giving and receiving in relationship as we come in a new year to know the stranger as friend, come to know the friend more deeply, come to know Christ as he receives us into the embrace of God’s family, come to know God as his child.

The point of Christmas is relationship. Really knowing God, growing in our life as a child of God, is a matter of relationship. We can learn a great deal about a person by picking up the facts of their lives, but we only start to know a person when we draw into relationship with them.  God has been communicating with humanity from the beginning, but when all seems to have been said and done by way of information then Christmas happens. God sends his son, the Word is made flesh, named and alive among us as Jesus our saviour, so that we can know God through intimate relationship.

Heathrow airport is a great place to observe the embrace of relationships, and to wonder at the back-stories of lives glimpsed in snapshot moments of joyful reunion. Channel 4 shared my fascination and was able to bring to light the facts behind a few of the embraces in their short documentary on ‘Arrivals’ at Heathrow.  The tragic story, for example, of one father, Harled, who’d escaped the intense sufferings in Syria to try to bring a better life to his wife and child, knowing it might mean drowning on his journey. Harled explains how the boat that took him to Europe was built to hold 15 but they put 50 in it and when it began to sink all those with life jackets were thrown overboard. He spent 5 hours in the water before being rescued by Greek coast guards and then struggled across 6 more countries to reach Britain.  In Syria his wife is still missing; he doesn’t know if she is alive or dead. But after a year apart, the Red Cross have helped get his 3 year old son Ali out of Syria. Channel 4 cameras were at Heathrow to capture the moment that Harled and Ali were reunited. 

Harled’s excitement is mixed with fear as he waits for the arrivals gates to open: ‘I’d lost hope of seeing my son again....but what if he doesn’t recognize me, doesn’t know I’m his dad. How will he react’.  Then as Harled races to hug Ali, a bewildered Ali murmers ‘I’m scared’, but the warmth of Harled’s kisses and embrace instantly change Ali’s exclamation to one of joy, crying ‘Throw me in the air!....and again’.  Harled cannot contain his joy.....‘Happiness, unbelievable happiness’, he says ‘A happiness I wish upon everyone’.

It’s in his relationship as father through words of love, relationship shared beyond words as he lifts his son high in tears of joy, that we start to know something of Harled the man.  I hope all can feel this happiness’ are Harled’s generous words in the bliss of relationship with his beloved son.

In sending Jesus to us in human form, God our father shows his desire and joy for us, his beloved children.  God’s gift at Christmas isn’t just another human relationship but relation to God the father, as we are invited to stand where Jesus stands in the full torrent of God’s love and creativity, giving and receiving. To come into that place and be rooted there means letting go our fear of dependence and opening our hearts to be fed and enlarged and transformed.  Depending on each other, receiving and learning as natural expressions of closeness and trust. Becoming God’s child in our intimate relationship and dependence on God, as we receive Jesus into our lives and hearts. And the consequences are that we ourselves learn to speak and act in such a way that others then want to share that relationship in the fullness of Christ.

2016 has been a year of momentous change as seismic shifts in world powers, insecurities, and atrocities cause us to wonder and fear perhaps for the future.  We struggle to find meaning as the old frameworks we know for potential stability and peace are upturned in a new world of disorder, conflict and unknowns.  We can feel helpless when we look at the scale of conflict and power.  Helpless and inadequate in our seemingly small acts of kindness, our cries for justice, our persistent prayers for peace, compassion and love, as we question whether anything we can do or be can break into the darkest places of need in our world.

But we are children of God, growing closer to know God our Father through our intimate relationship with Jesus his son. And the dazzling light of Christ can be born in and through us to change not only ourselves but the world through the individual relationships we can share in Christ’s love.

It’s into the realities of our dangerous, suffering, yet achingly beautiful world, that the child of God is born. And born in and through us. Jesus isn’t born into an unreal fantasy which ends with the shepherds happily in their fields and all well with the world, but into a real world where the shepherds return with joy deep in their hearts but very likely remain in their state of homelessness, outcasts at the margins of their society. And Jesus is born into the reality of our world where Mary, who offered her ‘yes’, ponders and treasures a great mystery too beautiful to be explained, yet cradles the pain of self-sacrificial intimate relationship and love which will pierce her soul.  

The helpless Christ-child is born into all the pain and injustice humanity can brandish, yet is held in the caring, protective arms of human love as we, like Mary, receive God’s child to dwell in the intimacy of our hearts. We live in a changing world........... Christ’s birth in our world and in us changes everything. 

May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and give you his peace throughout this coming new year.  Amen