Come to make a difference - A Christmas Day sermon based on Luke 2: 1-20
I love the music that we sing at Christmas. Carols such as those we are singing today are full of joyful meaning and on the whole they come with pretty good tunes.
I like other Christmas songs. I can't quite enthuse over Wizard wishing it could be Christmas every day or that awful Shakin Stevens' number about a rock and roll Christmas but I do love John Lennon's "Merry Christmas: War is over" and don't even get me started about the classic by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl, "The Fairy Tale of New York" which is most years played so much in our home that I think I pretty well know the words off by heart.
Of course "The Fairy Tale of New York" is more of a drunken argument between an Irish immigrants to the United States and a young woman than anything to do with the Christmas story. Sure the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day but that is as far as it goes.
But that does not invalidate it for this time of year. After all it was within Cornish Methodism that I first heard that seasonal offering about Good King Wenceslas so beloved by many carol singers.
Its relevance to Christmas is that it is located on the Feast of Stephen which is of course our Boxing Day. It fits the fascination of the Northern hemisphere with notions of a White Christmas - something about which Bing Crosby dreamt whilst this year we know the real thing when we sing;
"When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even."
Indeed it may be the current weather which has caused Good King Wenceslas to dominate my thinking this past week.
Now at this stage it is worth considering who Wenceslas was. He lived back in the tenth century out in Bohemia. In fact he wasn't a King in his lifetime. Instead he was a paltry Duke who was granted the title of King only after his death by order of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto 1.
By all accounts he was fine person who showed great kindness to widows, orphans and those in prison. And his kindnesses were expressed at great cost to his personal convenience. So the events about which we sing are very much in keeping with what historians know of Wenceslas.
In the Christmas song he leaves the comforts of the palace to bring firewood and a meal to a peasant who is battling against the ferocious elements. At a time when at Christmas it was common for the peasantry to be invited to go up to royal palaces to share in the leftovers of Christmas feasting, Wenceslas goes out to the peasant to provide him withmeans of warmth and a new feast to enjoy. And this he does despite inclement weather which turns out to be nearly too much for the page who accompanies him.
I cannot help but think that there is a picture of the Christmas story here. Through the birth of Christ, God does not stay at a distance. Instead he invades our world with love that comes with both risk and cost to himself. For God is not a remote deity but instead he empties himself of all the trappings of comfort, of everything but love itself for each and every one of us.
In Luke's Gospel we see God moving amongst the poor and outcasts. Mary in her Magnificat sees God working to feed the poor whilst sending the rich empty away. she sees the humble being lifted up and Kings pulled down from their thrones. Soon the first to be called to visit the baby Jesus will be shepherds, men of little wealth, men of low social standing. The Holy family themselves are regarded by the respectable with disapproval on account of the circumstances surrounding the birth. Not unexpectedly then this Jesus will be the friend of outcasts and his teachings and stories will display a solidarity with the poor denied the justice for which prophets had long spoken.
No surprise then that several centuries later Wenceslas will have discerned that to follow Jesus involves being in solidarity with the poor. Far from harshly judging the poor, the follower of Jesus is called to follow in the master's steps in being a friend to those deprived of dignity and the full recognition of their humanity.
Our Christmas song concludes with the words;
"Therefore Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank posessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing."
So on the Christmas Day may we looking at Luke's Nativity and at the story of Wenceslas, come to know and then to live out the Gospel imperative to be alongside the poor - not as some sort of patronising act but because this is the way of the Lord in whose step we should seek to tread.