Around Christmas every year the media always carry a report about one or two vicars who preach some controversial sermon or leave children in tears because of some outrageous action. The story normally lasts for a few days, and then the news cycle moves on, although not before folk at large have generally been left with the impression that the church is led by a group of rather out of touch men who don’t really believe the Christmas story they are supposed to preach.
And this makes me sad quite really. Because, first of all, the Christmas story is a wonderful story. Although I grumble at having to preach on the same texts year on year, I know this is what I am called to do. I do wonder if a few vicars (and I am sure they are only a few) wander off message simply because they get bored and over familiar with the stunning message that God has become flesh and dwelt among us. And secondly, the fact that the majority of ministers preach a simple, straightforward gospel message is almost always overlooked. It just doesn’t make news.
But then I think we have to wake up and realise just how marginalised the Christian faith has become in this country. For many years church leaders have campaigned for more coverage of religious affairs and Sunday services in the media, but it is increasingly becoming a losing battle. We cannot therefore be surprised if faith is more and more seen as some kind of oddity, and any story which reinforces this view is bound to be seized upon. In fact I believe that in the long run the situation that the church in this country faces will become more like that in other parts of the world – a misunderstood minority that will attract hostility and suspicion – in fact almost exactly the situation the early church faced.
Which is why we need to stick to the main subject of the Christmas story and keep preaching it faithfully year on year. Because among so many other things it is about God coming to dwell in the midst of suffering and persecution and through the foolishness of the cross setting up a kingdom not of this world where the poor and the humble and the weak are blessed.
And maybe if we really took this message to heart and lived it, then we might just start to see that renewal and that revival the church in this country longs to see.
With that thought in mind, let me wish you all a Happy New Year!