Sermon preached by Revd Hazel White, 31 December 2017

Christmas 2, St Anne’s, 10am

This morning I offer you some thoughts on a little 3 letter word that features highly in the Christmas stories, either implicitly or explicitly. It’s a word that trips off the tongue very easily, but often with a weight of meaning behind the word that isn’t always apparent when the word is used. It’s a word that we probably use many times a day, sometimes on auto response without stopping to think, sometimes not really meaning it, and sometimes using it too easily when we ought in fact to be using a different word—well I do anyway!

The word is YES!

In the Biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus, either explicitly or implicitly, we have Mary’s yes to the angel’s message as she takes on all that is involved in bringing to birth the Saviour of the world, even though she probably didn’t really understand exactly what it was that she was taking on. We have Joseph’s yes to an angel as he assents to take Mary as his wife, rather than the more natural course of action, which would be to divorce her. We have the Innkeeper’s yes as he finds space for the young couple even when he had no space. We have the Shepherd’s yes recorded in this morning’s Gospel reading as they respond to the message of the angels, and agree to go in search of the new born baby, and then we have the yes of the Wise Men, which we celebrate next Sunday at Epiphany, as they heed the warning given to them in a dream to return by another route after they have visited Jesus, instead of going back to Herod to tell him where the baby was, as he had requested.

I doubt very much whether any of these people gave their assent easily or automatically. There would most likely have been many questions and doubts and discussions along the way.

And in many ways it wouldn’t do to have an automatic ‘yes’ without proper thought and internal interrogation of what was being asked: the yes of those in the narratives telling the story of the birth of Jesus meant far more than mere unquestioned assent.

It meant more, because in all of this is an even bigger YES: God’s yes. God’s yes to the world and every living creature and every human being that is a part of this world. In the birth of Jesus Christ, as one of our Christmas carols puts it, God was ‘pleased as man with man to dwell’. In other words, as Rowan Williams writes, ‘God delights to be human alongside human beings. In this life that begins at Bethlehem there is no little corner or gap where humanity breaks off and God starts. Everything is soaked through with the divine energy and love and light’.

This is the greatest YES ever! It existed in God before the foundation of the world, and it continues for ever, extending into eternity. It’s not selective, but unconditional: in Jesus we see a God who values our humanity – body, soul, and spirit – beyond all imagining.

And this is good news, not just for us, but for all people and all time. And it is especially good news for those to whom the world says ‘no’: the unloved and forgotten, the marginalised and despised, and those who are seemingly insignificant in the eyes of the world.

This is not an easy yes, it is hard won and costly, even for God. Our first reading, that passage from the letter to the Philippians, tries to capture something of the cost of God’s yes to the world and to humanity as it describes a self-emptying within God’s very being, a costly self-emptying, which led to a violent death on a cross. And in all of this a God who takes a risk: how would humanity respond to God’s self-emptying? Would the world in the end be able to say yes to God?

As we stand on the threshold of a new year, God’s invitation extends to us once more to give our yes to the God who says yes to us. God says yes to the whole of us, body, mind and spirit. God says yes to our undiscovered potential, all that is yet to be. Can we willingly continue on that journey of discovery, wherever it may lead us?

The God who values our humanity beyond all imagining, invited us not only to value ourselves, but also to value all other human lives – including, and perhaps especially, those lives that impact on us in difficult or negative ways, and those lives that the world would write off as insignificant – those that today’s collect describe as outcast and in need.

If we take it seriously, all this is deeply challenging – but then the message of the Incarnation that we celebrate at Christmas is not cosy or comfortable either – God’s yes to humanity is also deeply challenging, and cost God everything.

I’d like to leave you with a poem which is one person’s response to God, perhaps it may inspire you to make your own response to God for the coming year:

There

In the glimmer of a smile
on a care-worn face
In the fountain fresh hope of a first embrace
      There
When sun sparkles on the dancing foam 
And laughter splashes like the hearts of home
      There
In the pain and confusion and tears
The muffled screams and nameless fears
      There
In the scuttling panic of a wind-whipped leaf
In the brimming ache of endless grief
      There
In the emptiness of alone
In the grey barren of chilled stone
      There
      Always there
The eye brighter than the gleaming crown
The heart softer than the purple gown
The servant on the throne
The king who would be known
For no reason, except to give
In every season that we might live.

©Mark Greene, Executive Director London Institute for Contemporary Christianity