Sermon, Christmas Eve, December 2018


Reading: Isaiah 52.7

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news”

The Bible is full of strange, baffling statements and this is surely one of them.  A messenger can be beautiful – but their feet?  Really? And why this particular part of their anatomy?  For all its weirdness I was oddly moved by these words and couldn’t get them out of my mind when I read them.  Like so much poetry they appeal to the heart before making any sense to the head.

Why so moving?  Peace and good news seem to be in pretty short supply at the moment.  We are in a state of bewildering, worrying chaos.  What does all this current turmoil mean for our nation, our lives, our families and our livelihoods?  Of course, we are not alone in this for there are convulsions elsewhere.  Wouldn’t it be great if a messenger were to come to us telling us with authority: “don’t worry, it’s all going to be OK”.  So great would be our relief that we might even find his or her feet beautiful. 

We Christians spend a lot of time talking about good news.  The visceral nature of my response to these seemingly odd lines from Isaiah left me pondering what we really mean by “good news”.  Too often I fear we make it all a bit abstract and insubstantial.  We’re always talking about “salvation”; forgiveness of sins; life eternal; and so on.  However much I believe in all these things I know that in reality any good news worth having must mean something in our lives.  It must speak to us personally.  It must address us where we are now. 

This is where the Christmas story is of great relevance.  Strip away - if you can - the schmaltzy aspects of the nativity story and what do you have?  A child born in poverty to a mother who endured labour in unpleasant, insanitary conditions and all this in a nation ruled over by a brutally violent and oppressive Roman regime.  Jesus was a man of the people he set out to serve.  He knew their hurts, their needs, their pain.  Yes, he talked about salvation, about sin and forgiveness of sins.  Above all he talked about establishing the kingdom of God which all sounds a bit high-flown and churchy until you realise that the kingdom of God exists wherever and whenever the individual, particular needs of men and women are met.  He was without doubt the most brilliant preacher telling stories that encouraged his listeners to work out the truth for themselves.  These are stories that to this day go to the heart of what it is to be human.  But none of that preaching and teaching would have counted for anything much at all if he hadn’t met the intensely practical - often bodily - needs of men and women

It’s precisely because Jesus: gave the blind their sight; restored full mobility to the lame and disabled; fed the hungry; and relieved those burdened by guilt with the certainty of forgiveness that people listened to all he had to say about God’s purpose for the world and took it to their hearts.

Look at it this way.  No single historical figure has changed or shaped the world as much as Jesus.  How did he do it?  NOT by becoming King of Israel or any kind of leader in any conventional sense. Instead, when the centre of the world was far away in the mighty imperial city of Rome, he spent what little time he had in the rural backwater of Palestine ministering not to the rich and powerful but to the weak and powerless.  Michael Ramsay, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, put it like this:

“…the glory of Christianity is its claim that small things really matter…..Amidst a vast world with its vast empires and vast events and tragedies our Lord devoted himself to a small country, to small things, to individual men and women, often giving hours of time to the very few or to the one man or woman…..the infinite worth of the one is the key to the Christian understanding of the many.”

We do indeed live in a bewildering state of chaos as a nation, one in which it’s impossible to feel that we can have any meaningful part in shaping events that will affect us all.  Well, if ever there was a time to remember that it’s the small things that really matter it’s now.  Look to your homes and families, your neighbourhoods, your workplaces.  Just take a moment to ponder this Christmas the countless acts of kindness – however small - that you encounter day in day out.  These are things we so often overlook or take for granted so busy are we or so taken up with the latest shock news and startling headline.  For I promise you that if you do this the world will start to look a very different place, one in which, in our own small, unheroic way we make a positive difference to each other.   It is here, in the small, the particular, the personal, that we find our real cause for hope

“How beautiful, indeed, are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news”.