Is a 'return to normal' all you have to look forward to?
Christmas Day 2020
(This is a short message given by Ian Goodson (pastor, GCW) at the Christmas Day service at Grace Church Wakefield in the car park at Jubilee Hall!)
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:4-7)
I just want to think for a few moments about what you’re looking forward to.
Perhaps you're just looking forward to your Christmas dinner. Or the Christmas telly.
But the big thing we’re all being made to look forward to is the end of the pandemic. It’s a national obsession.
But that isn’t what I want to lift your eyes ahead to.
Because you do know don’t you that when things go back to normal, they go back to normal. Your work is still your work (probably pretty dull and sometimes hard). The chores will still need to be done. Every day. You’ll still have the ups and the downs in family life.
And wars will continue. And famines. And the tragedies in our personal lives. And your loved ones will still get sick. And other people will still hurt you.
And you will still be you when this pandemic ends.
There is something fitting about being in a car park on Christmas Day. Honestly!
This is a nowhere place. And look let's face it - we might feel a little bit silly, sat out here in a car park. But there is something very fitting.
The Old Testament Jews were looking forward to the day when God would come into the scene. The Messiah - their true King - would come and bring them forgiveness of their sins, remove all their enemies, set up a perfect nation under Great King David’s greater Son.
And there was a huge expectation about the Messiah coming. Sometimes it would get to fever pitch. A bit like a child on Christmas Eve!
But then when he came - it’s like he just slipped in. The way Luke records it is just so matter of fact.
V 4 an annoying political directive means a tedious journey for Joseph and Mary
V 5 An engaged couple expecting a baby - well there’s certainly nothing strange about that today
V 6 "The time came for the baby to be born" - as it does
V 7 "She wrapped him in clothes and placed him in a manger". Unconventional, but every parent quickly learns to be enterprising.
It’s all really pretty boring.
That’s no fanfare. There’s no fireworks. It’s all in one sense very normal.
God slips into the world - into a place not unlike this car park in the middle of this estate.
A nowhere place, a forgotten place. Not a top hotel or Buckingham Palace.
There is a sense in which Christ’s coming into the world was totally underwhelming. Dare I say some would say, it’s a let down?
That’s what it is for the majority of people in Wakefield. Whether or not it actually happened it doesn't matter - it’s just a complete irrelevance. People are far too busy looking forward - looking forward to what will be on their dinner table. Or what tomorrow holds or next week
And now they’re really longing for something in the future - the end of the pandemic. They don't know quite when it’ll come they just know it will. But that’s it - that is about as good as it gets. A return to normal.
But when things go back to normal, well they go back to normal.
Why did God just slip into the world in such an underwhelming way?
He slipped into this world - so boringly - because he had come to sort out the deepest problem, the problem behind all our sadness, behind all our guilt and shame and failures, behind all our fears….
And behind all pandemics.
He had slipped into this world, into the normality of it, to identify with sinners like you and me.
And to live a perfect human life, because we couldn't. And, from a baby to a man
- from a cradle to cross - to die in the place of sinners like you and me.
And then to rise to new life for you and for me, and now he's waiting - waiting to come once more into our world.
The difference is when he returns he will come with great fanfare.
And all of a sudden, whether or not you are interested in him will become the irrelevance. No option to shrug your shoulders then.
And for his people - those who have trusted in him and lived their lives for him - something much, no, infinitely, better than the end of one little pandemic: the end of all our suffering, loneliness, pain, and sin.
So look, don't buy into the media’s and your neighbour’s obsession with an end to pandemic. Don't look ahead to that. Don't sell yourself short.
Look ahead to the new creation. Look ahead to God’s normal. Not yours. Who really wants our normal. It’s not all that great, is it?
Let Christmas Day - let Christmas morning spent in a car park - remind you that you have a God who has slipped into this world once to start the rescue you need.
And he’s guaranteed to return to complete it.
And when he comes again, things won’t go back to normal.
Who wants normal? I want heaven.
Ian Goodson - GCW Pastor