The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
4 For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword.
I recently went to see the movie Wreck it Ralph 2 which is a sequel to the movie put out in 2012 Wreck it Ralph.
The movies are about Ralph who is a character in a video arcade game.
At night when the machines are turned off, the characters come to life so to speak.
The original Wreck it Ralph is about Ralph who doesn’t want to be a villain in the arcade game any more and thinks that if he goes into another game he can be a hero and gain respect.
Of course when he goes into another game he kind of wrecks the game.
And the movie then is about how he works with a princess to fix the mess he made and in the end he is a hero.
They are pretty fun movies and especially fun for those who are well acquainted with arcade games.
And I want you to think of the times when maybe your wrecked it.
It seems to be a fairly human thing, you know. The ability to wreck things.
In fact one of the first games I played with my granddaughter Spencer before she could even walk, was that I would build a tower out of blocks and she would come and wreck it and knock it down. I would build it and she would wreck it and she would smile or laugh to see the blocks go tumbling and we could play that game for quite a while.
I am the Clerk of the Presbytery of Edmonton-Lakeland and every two years the clerks get together for training and updates.
One time we shared about our biggest mistakes as clerks.
I shared that when I was Clerk of the Synod of Saskatchewan, somehow I didn’t send in the right form by January first, and all the Presbyterians ministers in Saskatchewan lost their permission to officiate at marriages.
I am sure that all of us could share stories of Wreck it situations, where we have wrecked something.
All of us have stories of wrecked relationships, of personal failure, of leaving a trail of wreckage at work, or at home, or at church or wherever.
We all have said things we regret, hurt people, acted foolishly, and made mistakes.
Every one of us has been a Wreck it Ralph in some ways, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.
And I was thinking about wrecking it because of a story I found on the internet. A bishop, the late Right Reverend Thomas Shaw, bishop of the Diocese of Massachusetts one time met a man and his son. The bishop asked them what they did to celebrate Christmas.
The man name Fred explained to the bishop and to his son, Sam that they would get up on Christmas morning, open their presents and then go to church.
Sam replied “Church?! On Christmas? We’re going to go to church on Christmas?”
Fred patiently explained, “Of course, that’s what Christmas is all about. It’s about Jesus’ birth and God coming to us.”
Sam said, “I know, I know, I know! But Christmas! Church wrecks everything!”
The church wrecks everything. Yes it does. And the reason we come to church is to meet the child who was born to wreck everything.
It is the side to Christmas we don’t like to talk about. And it may be upsetting in face of our culture’s approach to Christmas and it may be upsetting in an age where terrorism and violence always seem to be in the news to hear the words of the one born in a manger, that he hasn’t come to bring peace but a sword.
But the sword that Jesus brings I think is the sword of truth and the truth is that we sentimentalize Christmas and blunt the good news of Jesus, and dumb down the good news of Jesus…
And forget that the child born in a manger was a scandal…
And the man Jesus who is executed on a cross was a scandal…
And the scandal is that he came to turn you and me and the world upside down.
To wreck the world as we know it.
And yet through the years we have had a tendency to romanticize the Christmas story, to make it cute…to make it nice.
Philips Brooks in his lovely Christmas carol writes: O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.
And we get the picture of a cute little romantic town that can be on Christmas cards…
But the reality behind this still town, was that Jesus’ family was poor and there was no place for Jesus to be born. It is a story of oppression.
Who come to visit him? The outcasts. …dirty smelly shepherds who are unclean and not welcome in houses of worship.
Who comes to visit him? Arabs, people from the lands of present day Iran and Iraq. Outsiders and strangers, who would not have been welcome in the houses of worship.
And then there is the carol: Away in a manger with its words:
The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes. But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes
I am not sure Jesus would have passed the Apgar Test, because a strong cry give you 2 points for respiration and 2 points for response to stimulation.
So even the hymns romanticize the birth of Jesus and while maybe helping everybody feel all warm and cozy inside…
Maybe they blunt the message of Christmas…
That Jesus was the plan of God to wreck what we have made of this world and made of Christmas.
Remember that old adage. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
It is a reminder that when we try to get rid of something bad, that we don’t inadvertently throw out the good.
But Barbara Lundblad, professor of preaching at Union Theological seminary and a Lutheran minister, takes the saying and flips it around.
She says what cultures do in this world is throw out the baby and keep the bathwater.
She says that Jesus was born under Roman occupation and Rome was a powerful empire that thought that people were expendable and constantly enslaved and killed all sorts of people.
And she says that the Jews, who were oppressed by Rome, had the same dynamic of throwing out the baby and keeping the bathwater.
They were obsessed with holiness and purity and not being dirty, that they threw out foreigners and sinners and the sick and the poor and the mentally challenged.
Is it any different today? How many countries, provinces, states, cities, places are scared of the influx of refugees.
Just think how many people in the world suffer from racism, discrimination, ethnic cleansing or genocide.
Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist from Saudi Arabia, who was a critic of the Saudi government, who in all fairness should be criticized, walked into a Saudi embassy in Turkey and by all accounts was murdered and cut up in pieces by his own government.
According to Amnesty International human rights are few and far between at times in Saudi Arabia and critics of the royal family can be tortured, falsely accused and executed unjustly. They have a horrible record of rights and equality for women.
They constantly throw the baby out and keep the bathwater and yet Jamal Khashoggi is just another victim, another baby thrown out…
And some might argue that the $350 billion arms deal with the United States is the bathwater.
Canada is looking at getting out of their 13 billion arms deal with the Saudis.
Currently there are two Canadians detained by the Chinese government for what critics think is retaliation against Canada for arresting the Chief Financial Officer of the Chinese Tech company Hauwei, because the United Sates wants her extradited.
I am no legal expert, but the optics are that the people are being used a pawns in a trade war between the two biggest powers in the world, and that we Canadians are caught in the middle.
John F Kennedy in his inaugural speech said: …ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.
And while I am sure JFK meant to encourage a sense of service in US citizens, I am wondering these days if governments think the most important thing is that people serve the government, and in so doing forget the people that governments serve.
I think Jesus came to wreck the whole system that thinks that people are expendable.
I think if there was only one person in this world, Jesus would die for that person.
And if that one person were you, Jesus would die to save you.
Jesus came to wreck the systems of the world that deny a cup of cold water to someone in need.
Jesus came to wreck the political systems that determine who is in and who is out.
Jesus came to wreck the economic systems that make a very few people fantastically wealthy and the vast majority of the people in this world poor as church mice.
Jesus came to wreck our world wide tribalism, that pits one tribe against another in competition, enmity, violence or envy, whether that be race, culture, political parties, ethnic groups, or faith traditions.
Jesus came to wreck our fear or death and exclusion, by telling us that we are all loved and included and that there is love and acceptance with him in this life and beyond the grave.
Jesus came to wreck our view of the world which puts us at the centre of it, and everyone else a lesser light, and instead replace it with a view that love is the centre of the world and service to others is the way to be.
Jesus even came to wreck our sense of family life, so that we would embrace a wider view of family, that all people are God’s children.
Jesus came to destroy our egos, …our selfishness, our self-centredness…which is the source of all our sin.
Jesus came to wreck our value systems, which says that people are valued for their power, their wealth, their possessions, their looks, their talent or their heritage…
I don’t know about you, but when I hold up the sword of truth to my own life…
…there are few things that Jesus needs to wreck.
Charles Dickens wrote: “A Christmas Carol” 175 years ago, but it still has a contemporary feel.
It has never been out of print and the character of Ebenezer Scrooge has become so well-known that the name Scrooge is now a word in the dictionary for a mean grasping person who is stingy with money.
And the story is about how one night the ghost of his partner and three other Spirits come to him in the middle of the night and wreck the world as he knows it.
And what do they show him. All they show him is the truth.
He sees the past and his fiancée who breaks up with him because she knows that Scrooge will always love money more than her.
He sees the present. He sees the happiness of his employee Bob Cratchit and the happiness of his family all gathered around for dinner including their sickly boy Tiny Tim. He sees that even though they are poor they are happy because they love one another.
He sees the future and sees that nobody wants to be at his own funeral, and nobody cares about his death, while he sees in contrast the Cratchit family mourning the loss of Tiny Tim.
I suppose in reality few transformations take place within the span of one night.
Often it takes real time in one’s life and often some good guides for us to navigate the pain of one’s past, the question of whether we will meet the needs of people in the present, and the question of whether we are building relationships of love for the future.
But our belief is that God comes to us, to heal the pain from the past, to work through us to reach our to others in the present, and to be the unconditional love which is our future and the love by which we can build relationships.
Scrooge says: I will not be the man I must have been but for this visitation.
The Christmas story is all about visitation. It is about angels visiting Mary and Joseph and shepherds and Wisemen.
It is about God visiting earth through the baby Jesus, but also through Mary and Joseph and shepherds and wise men.
And God comes in Jesus to wreck our world…
To wreck your life…
And so maybe you can leave the service or leave this Christmas saying:
I will not be the person I must have been but for this visitation.
That you will be a changed person.
And that you will be testament to the good news that God is visiting the earth.
And everybody will see that God is visiting the earth through you.
For everyone who seeks to save their life will lose it, and those who let their lives be wrecked for my sake, will find life.