We were packed out at St John’s Itchen Abbas and did run out of seats (at 160 plus we were bound to do so) – so sorry for those of you who had to stand! But we had a lot of fun at our Christmas Day Parish Communion. The flowers in the church had been so beautifully prepared
and as we all entered the church we could see the Christmas Tree covered with stars on which were written the prayers of the children at Itchen Abbas Primary School.
Everyone was in the Christmas mood!
We were particularly fortunate to have Jeremy Chiari playing the organ after a desperate plea for pianists on the Itchen List – he was the one person to respond! Thank you so much Jeremy! Sarah Hunt and Robin Greenwood read the lessons and John Barber read some really amazing prayers – thank you to all of you. Also many thanks to the Itchen Abbas team led by Tony Gaster who got the communion table so well organised and helped us through a few little details!
Alex Pease gave the following talk – here is a recording but it is in full below:
Can you remember when you were born? Can you remember when your brother or sister was born? Can you remember when your son or daughter was born? An amazing experience!
Of course, I remember both my daughters being born: a totally transformational experience…..I went from being a very grumpy participant in NCT classes to a totally devoted Dad, within seconds as Claudia was born.
But do you remember when your brother or sister or son or daughter was born………..
Were there, by any chance, round your mother’s bed, in the maternity ward at the hospital, choirs of angels singing? Was there, possibly, a star over the hospital where they were born? Did wise men come from the east bearing gifts?
So what is so special about this baby, this Jesus, that the planets are realigned to make a new star appear in sky, that the supernatural world breaks in with the angels being seen by simple shepherds? That scientists from the East come to pay respect?
Why does this baby matter?
Because the birth of Jesus Christ, (what theologians call the incarnation, not a national car magazine), because the incarnation, like chilli con carne, is chilli with meat, the incarnation is the the coming of God in the flesh, the enfleshment of the Creator of the Universe!
And the incarnation changes everything………
You see, Jesus’ birth is not just about knowledge, not just about knowledge of who God is (although the person of Jesus Christ does reveal the true character of God, in a way that the speculations of other religions cannot. His birth is not just an event which tells us about God at all.
His birth actually brings God to us and unites us to him.
He does not just show us what we should be (although he does show us that), but actually enables us to be who we should be, to be the people that we were made to be, the people that we were born to be.
Theologian Mike Lloyd gives a great example of this in his book Cafe Theology.
You may remember about the Hubble space telescope put into orbit by the US had a notorious problem, some mathematical miscalculation: a plus instead of a minus or something….had resulted in a mirror or a lens which was in the wrong shape and the telescope did not function at all as it should, all the images of the stars it was focused upon were fuzzy.
The NASA scientists couldn’t put this right, remotely, from a distance. Only by sending a manned mission to the stricken craft and by coming alongside could the necessary repairs be made and so astronauts were sent up to where the Hubble space telescope was in orbit, to fix it!
In the incarnation, the Creator has docked with his malfunctioning creation.
Only by coming alongside us indeed becoming one of us, can He enable us to be and to do everything that we were created for. Only by this can he enable us to flourish, as we were meant to do so and as he wants us to. But he does not just inspire us to live better to live in a way which enables us to flourish.
He also enables us to address our suffering.
Mike Lloyd in his brilliant book quotes Ruth Burrows, a nun who has had a difficult and painful life who writes of the difference that the Incarnation makes to the experience of suffering. She writes: ’I can do nothing but recall the utterable wonder that God too had a human birth. He came into the world, as we come into it. He came to drink with us the bitter cup of humanness.
He drank it to the dregs and thereby transformed its bitterness. Bitter it is and yet sweet, for his lips meet ours over the brim”
Many, many of us even in the beautiful Itchen Valley know that bitter cup of humaness.
In 2017 in Itchen Valley we conducted a survey on what hurt the most in peoples lives.
Top of the tree, for over 40% of people, they said it was something to do with their relationships. Negative thoughts and sadness came next, with pain, injustice, bereavement and loneliness following next.
But the good news is that all of these terrible problems can be utterly transformed by the presence of Jesus Christ, who came by this baby, who came to us on Christmas Day and remains with us through his Holy Spirit.
He can do, by his presence, something that cannot be done if he were a remote person telling us what to do. He can do what no doctor, shrink, or consultant, can do, because he stands with us alongside us, in the pain we encounter in our lives……….as his lips touch ours over the brim of the cup of bitterness of our lives.
Some of you will have been present when Nora gave her moving testimony at her baptism and confirmation at Valley Worship at St Mary’s Easton in November. I know she would not mind me encouraging you to listen to her testimony which is on our website (and which follows here)
which tells of how Jesus has been present in the challenges she has faced in her life.
It’s not that our problems go away. Its just that Jesus is with us in them and that totally transforms them, enabling us to cope.
So whatever the challenges that you are facing, whether it be difficult relationships, demanding relations or demanding children, whether it is negative thoughts or sadness or pain, injustice, bereavement or loneliness, the man that this baby grew to become is knocking on the door of your heart.
Don’t run away from him. Don’t deny him. Invite him in.
And, like Nora, allow him to transform your situation….and you will understand why choirs of angels and stars marked that first Christmas Day.