Message from Rev. Thornley
John 1:1-5.& 14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God; 3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life,[a] and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.
We are now moving in the season of Advent, a time of preparation for Christmas. The word Advent comes from the Latin Adventus meaning arrival. There are many “advents” that happen around us but we don’t normally use that term. Young married couples preparing for the arrival of their new baby or families preparing for the arrival of family members for the holidays. In the supermarkets and department stores one sees the paraphernalia of this time of the year. Gifts, Christmas trees, baubles, tinsel, artificial snow and Father Christmas/Santa Claus. Don’t forget the Christmas carols that started in October. In a collection of children’s letters to Santa Claus collected by the US post office we have this letter from a boy called Robert. It reads as follows. Dear Santa Claus, my name is Robert. I am 6 years old. I want a rifle, a pistol, a machine gun, bullets, a hand grenade, dynamite and tear gas. I am planning a surprise for my big brother. Your friend, Robert. There is no doubt that for children Santa Claus/Father Christmas is the most important character during the Christmas season. Although the origins of the character go all the way back to the middle ages to St Nicholas, the dress that he wears today goes back to 1880 and was devised by a certain Thomas Nast, a newspaper cartoonist. There is the true story told of a Chinese family who escaped from communist China when it was a more closed country than it is today. They managed to get to Hong Kong which was then under British rule. For the first time they were free and it also happened to be Christmas. The lights and the decorations were all very new to them and everywhere there was this man in a red suit with a long white beard. He seemed to be central to everything. The parents had no answers to their young son’s many questions. One day he was out walking when he discovered a Mission Hall and a lot of children inside singing. A kindly man came up to him and invited him in. They were practicing the nativity scene and the man explained the story of Jesus’ birth to him. He then asked the inevitable question “Is the man in the red suit – Jesus?” For many people the real meaning of Christmas is lost in the empty paraphernalia of the commercial world. Pagan and aetheist alike will celebrate the season and say “Merry Christmas” whatever that means. Have you noticed that many people today will say “Happy Holidays” in case they may offend someone. Some time ago in Australia certain families took a school to court for displaying Christmas trees, figures of Father Christmas and at Easter – Easter bunnies. Their argument was, not being of the Christian faith they found these things offensive. The court ruled that neither Christmas trees, figures of Father Christmas or Easter bunnies have anything to do with Christmas of Easter. When one looks at all the noise and decorations of the season there is certainly nothing spiritual about it. For many people Christmas should be spelt “krismis” just a word with no real meaning. A traditional word marking this time of the year. In fact it is a word full of meaning. In the early church all services focused around the weekly Agapē or Love Feast. This was a proper meal usually provided by wealthier Christians for the benefit of the poor. In the midst of the meal bread would be broken and wine taken to commemorate the Last Supper. As the church grew in size and for practical reasons the ritual of bread and wine was separated into a special service which in turn caused some divisive theological problems. This service became known as the Missa or dismissal – from the Latin “ITE MISSA EST” which means “Go you are dismissed.” Only the baptised or confirmed could partake of the elements, the others would be dismissed with a blessing. The word “Missa” later into evolved into the word “Mass.” From this we get the different Masses used to focus on the various services. Michaelmas 29th September commemorating St Michael and all Angels. Candlemas 2nd February commemorating the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple. Requiem Mass a service for the dead and the repose of the soul. About the 6th century the church wanted to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It took a long time to settle on a date but in the meantime the service simply became the Criste Missa or the Christ mass a Communion service honouring the birth of Jesus. The church was not looking for a date for presents, family gatherings or special dinners. It simply wanted to honour Christ’s birth. Unfortunately the meaning of it all has been lost and it is just a word signifying the festive season of the year. Sometime ago I came across these headlines in a certain newspaper – “New cards wish all a smutty Christmas.” One card read – “Christmas means parties which leads to drinking which leads to sex which leads to orgies and that’s what I call the magic of Christmas.” Can this really have anything to do with the Christ Mass and all that it means?” What does it mean to have Christmas in July? Certainly nothing to do with the birth of Christ – just a dinner. The preparations that go on at this time of the year have little to do with Christ Mass certainly nothing spiritual. It is all big business. In the Gospel of John chapter 1 verse 1 we read; “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God …. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” That is what the early church was celebrating. Unless we grasp that, the celebration is meaningless. It is like a person being given a valuable present but the recipient never gets passed the wrapping paper and ribbons to discover the real gift. Someone said that if we fill our children’s stockings with superfluous toys and sweets without offering them the same chance of finding faith we are denying them one of the greatest Christmas gifts. No doubt this applies to adults as well. I think the most poignant words to come out of this story as found in Luke chapter 2 verse 25 – 32. The infant Jesus was being presented in the Temple. Simeon an ancient Holy man took the baby in his arms and praised God saying; “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace for mine eyes have seen thy SALVATION which thou hast prepared before the face of all people . A light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.” This is the climax and heart of the Christmas story. This what we are celebrating. Anything outside of that is irrelevant. May you have a happy Christ filled Christmas and remember Jesus is the reason for the season without Him there is nothing.
An Advent prayer. Most Gracious Lord open our eyes to the real meaning of Your Son’s earthly birth that we may move beyond the mere traditions of the season and find at this time true salvation in the precious and wonderful name of Jesus. It is in this Name we pray. Amen