University of Sheffield Carol Service sermon 2009

Melanie's loved Christmas ever since she was a child. Now she has children of her own, it's even better. But how's she going to afford all their presents this year, since Kevin's lost his job?
Peter's got a heavy cold. Or it might be swine flu. He doesn't want to do anything but go home and be cossetted by Mum, even if he does get dragged out to church on Christmas Day. But believe in Jesus? Are you serious? That's like Santa Claus, isn't it? Just for little kids.
If it wasn't for Christmas, Briony's bookshop would be dead. She takes half the year's profits in December. But standing all day in the shop is just murder on her feet. If only she could take a bit of time off!
Malcolm's glad of the Christmas break. He can do his own research for a change, instead of all this undergraduate marking. He might even turn up at midnight mass. But really, Christmas is all sentiment - it's just a convenient pause in the semester.
Amanda sees all sorts over Christmas. A broken leg, would you believe, because someone's tripped over the fairy lights. Heart attacks brought on by too much turkey. Strokes caused by the stress of sitting round a table with all your nearest and dearest. It makes you a bit of a cynic, driving an ambulance over the ‘festive' season.
Brian never looks forward to Christmas. It reminds him of better times, long ago, when he used to have a home and a family. Peace and goodwill? Yeah, right. As far as he's concerned, the sooner it's all over the better.

So many people, so many hopes and fears; not just in Sheffield at Christmas 2009, but since there've been people at all. And God - assuming, just for the sake of argument, that Richard Dawkins hasn't got it quite right - what's God's reaction to all this? Assuming, just for the sake of argument, that God cares?
A baby? What can God have been thinking of, to come to us as a newborn human baby, one of the most helpless beings imaginable? I ask you: How can a baby do anything for Melanie's financial worries, Peter's aches and pains, Briony's exhaustion, Malcolm's boredom, Amanda's cynicism, Brian's pain?
But maybe it's precisely through his helplessness that the newborn Jesus can help us. This child meets us from a position of total vulnerability. He cannot bargain with us. He cannot argue from achievement or entitlement. The love he seeks from us, like the love he offers to us, is free. Unconditional. Whoever we are, whatever our hopes, whatever our fears. And when we know we are loved like that, we can get through the worst life can throw at us.
Christians believe that Jesus came precisely in order to share with us the good news of that free, unconditional love God has for each of us. It's why the stories about him are called, collectively, good news or Gospel. And, thank goodness, God's love for us doesn't depend on how we feel about God - or about Christmas, for that matter.
Angels or teenagers, shepherds or sheep, sages or pub landlords;
parents or lecturers, students or businesswomen, on call or on the streets: whoever we are, wherever we fit in the Christmas story and the Sheffield story, God's love is there for us. If we want it.

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