Immanuel (Matt 1:23)

Christmas is a truly global event, isn’t it? As well as being celebrated by millions of people all around the world, many of our most treasured Christmas traditions have their origins overseas. To give just a few examples:
• Christmas Trees and Advent Calendars come from Germany, the name Santa Claus is of Dutch origin, and the first Nativity play took place in Italy.
• The world has Britain to thank (or perhaps blame!) for Christmas cards – and I do admit to envying the Australian Christmas tradition of a barbeque on the beach!

But this year’s Christmas has had an especially international feel, as (for the first time) it has coincided with the football World Cup. 32 nations have completed in Qatar and over three billion people have watched the competition worldwide. Congratulations to Argentina, crowned as World Champions just an hour ago (I hope I haven’t spoilt the surprise for anyone!).

A fallen world
But this Christmas World Cup has also provided a stark reminder that we live in an imperfect, fallen world – a world that includes selfishness, suffering and injustice.

For example, the awarding of the competition to Qatar was surrounded with allegations of corruption, while the construction of the country’s football stadia came at the cost of many migrant workers’ deaths. The governing authorities in Qatar have also been accused of human rights infringements, and the environmental impact of the event has been called into question as well.

This World Cup has undoubtedly been a festival of football, but it has also exposed the imperfections of the human condition. The truth is that whether we are from Qatar or Cheshire, we are all members of a human race that is capable of great acts of goodness, beauty and athleticism, but is also culpable for unkindness and ingratitude towards other people, our planet and our God. None of us has walked blamelessly through this world.

The Saviour of the world
It is against this sombre background that the events of the first Christmas come as such good news:
• Events that took place not in Qatar, but in another small middle eastern state.
• Events that are not make-believe, but carefully recorded eyewitness accounts found in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John.

As we heard in our readings from those three Gospels this evening, the first Christmas marked the start of God’s rescue plan for the whole human race:
• A plan to put right all that is wrong with the world, and wrong with us.
• A plan that commenced with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but which continues to unfold to this very day.
• A plan of salvation that will culminate with the renewal of the whole wide world.

Our readings tonight have filled out Christ’s CV for us. They have explained why the birth of this particular baby was so significant. For example, we have heard Mary’s child named as ‘Immanuel’ – God with us’; heard him proclaimed by the angel Gabriel to be ‘Son of the Most High’; and (just now) heard him described by the apostle John as ‘God’s Word made flesh’.

Tonight’s lessons leave us in no doubt that, in the person of Jesus Christ, Heaven had truly come to Earth, that God had decisively revealed himself in human form.

With such a CV, it is no surprise that the prophet Isaiah predicted that Jesus’ fame would extend to the ends of the earth. The names of today’s great footballers, like Messi and Mbape, will eventually fade from our memory, but Christ’s reputation endures two millennia after his birth.

His reputation is great because of the great rescue he accomplished. As the angels said to the shepherds, Christ came to bring “peace” to all who turn to him. Peace with God, peace with others, even peace within ourselves. You see:

• If we give Jesus our loyalty, love and trust we receive God’s forgiveness and friendship with immediate effect. His death and resurrection has decisively reconciled us to God – no VAR (Video Action Replay) is required!

• If we give Jesus our loyalty, love and trust his Holy Spirit will enter also our lives and progressively change our attitudes and appetites for the better over the remainder of our lives. He will be an inner source of strength and hope throughout our journey through this troubled world.

• And, thirdly, if we give Jesus our loyalty, love and trust we become heirs to a future new creation in which peace will reign, where the wolf will lie down with the lamb, and where justice will be done. A restored world in which sin and suffering will be no more. A world in which Christ will be king, where governing authority will be his alone.

Our second lesson this evening, from Isaiah chapter 11, predicted the life of Jesus Christ centuries before his birth in Bethlehem. Our reading tonight ended at verse 9, but if we had listened to just one more verse we would have heard Isaiah describe the global impact of the life of Christ. Because in verse 10 of his famous prophecy, Isaiah says that that Mary’s son would become a “banner” for all people and that all “nations would rally to him”.

Over the past two thousand years, since the first Christmas, the baby born in Bethlehem has indeed become a global phenomenon, as millions of men and women from every nation have put their faith in him. From the Middle East to the Ends of the Earth, people have found peace in Christ. Peace within, peace with others, peace with God.

And so, this festive season, can I invite us all to join that number, if we have never done so before? Rally to Christ’s side, come under his banner, and experience the peace that his life, death and resurrection has purchased for us. Give Jesus your loyalty, love and trust – for he alone is the lasting solution to the human condition – the true champion of the world.

Phil Weston