Sermon by Haydon Wilcox 19.12.2021

Sermon by Haydon Wilcox

Sunday 19.12.2021

Advent 4 Year C

As we approach Christmas, many of us will be pulling crackers and reading the jokes – so here is one to remember:

Q. What did Adam say on the day before Christmas?

A. It's Christmas, Eve.

They will get better I assure you!

E.F. Schumacher wrote a book that influenced the world.  It was called ‘Small is beautiful’.  It was a publication that contradicted in the 1970’s the belief that ‘bigger is better’.  Small technologies, commerce, communities, policies, and politics would be far more effective he inferred if they adopted a superior alternative of ‘small is beautiful’ because the current trends were unsustainable. 

I remember reading this and it all seemed very radical and unattainable but in fact the book was quite prophetic because we are seeing today both economically and ecologically that we cannot continue as we are.  The challenge though is how do we reverse this fast-moving society, filled with so many expectations, and limit wrong practices, without diminishing our standard of living and the benefits we have attained as a society. 

Well, I can’t solve that one, but I do know that there is something very true about ‘Small being Beautiful’  Just look at St. Mark’s.  We are a small congregation, struggling to pay the diocese our parish share and maintain a beautiful historic building, that’s now too impractical for current purposes.  I suspect there is very little about us that the Diocese would say was successful because numerically and financially we are not viable.  Yet I tell you there is something wonderful in this place.  

There is so much joy around, smiles, care, commitment, and enthusiasm here. People receive such a warm welcome and being small  in number enables relationships to form.  The worship is traditional, calming, peaceful and yet we are open to making it more approachable. There is a genuine desire to welcome families with young children. We might be small, but we have  beauty qualities too.

Small is a common theme in the Bible.  The prophet Micah referred to Bethlehem being small and its people one of the smallest of clans.  Yet out of this place and people came David the King of the United Kingdom of Israel.  This shepherd boy anointed by God to be King.  This ruddy faced, bright eyes boy, who defeated Goliath and defended the nation from many enemies.  

Bethlehem that little village who was chosen again to be the birthplace of the Messiah, Jesus.  We should be mindful that God has a heart for the small things, for they are often vehicles to manifest grace, that outpouring of unconditional generous love.

Today we remember Mary, this insignificant young girl.  She was chosen again by God to carry grace for the world in her womb.  This little, small, unimportant person found favour with God. She had said a simple and very small thing when encountered by the angel Gabriel – she answered ‘Yes’ to God.  In the Gospel reading we hear that months into her pregnancy  she walks from Nazareth in the north to a village near to Jerusalem, where her cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant, lives.  Now that is a might long journey – it would have taken weeks. This young girl is now filled with boldness and becomes a prophetess, as she speaks of God in the most powerful of terms.  The small baby in her womb gives her the confidence to name the purposes of almighty God.

Today the Church looks for men and women to offer themselves to serve as ministers in the church. The National Church desires strong leaders to pioneer growth to build up congregations, to claw back from the decline that it has faced over two generations.  The church celebrates the wonderful examples of beacon churches flourishing with large numbers of people, of church plants where small congregations have been  transformed into thriving ones.  Examples of pioneering ministries and fresh expressions of worship are applauded.  The small and lowly are perhaps less celebrated, even might I say only an embarrassment.

Yet the Bible reveals that out of the small, God will do wonderful things. God doesn’t look for material or numerical worth but faithfulness, a willingness to say ‘Yes’ to God.  

Fishermen were small unimportant people, but they said ‘Yes’ to God. Shepherds, one of the lowliest in Jewish Society because they could never be ritually clean, said, ‘Yes’ to God as they went to see the birth of the Christ-child. Many people, small in human judgement, have said ‘Yes’ to God and been transformed to achieve things for the Kingdom of God that they or others would never believe possible.  In the small the greatness of God can be made visible.

So, we need to accept our smallness and cherish it.  We need to keep faithful and desire to say ‘Yes’ to God.  This requires compassion towards ourselves, to accept who we are and to be kinder to ourselves. We need to make clear and tangible efforts to grow closer to God  - learning, worshipping, experiencing, searching, serving  and working at that relationship.  

We need to be open to what God may be wanting of us and not ambitiously seek status or reward, for it is in serving others that we often encounter the divine.

And to those of you who have received Christmas cards that don’t quite make sense, take comfort from this story:

A man sent his friend a cryptic Christmas card. It said: A B C D E F G H I J K M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z. The recipient puzzled over it for weeks, finally gave up and wrote asking for an explanation. In July he received the explanation on a postcard: "No L."

Have a very happy Christmas, affirm the small things in you, around you in in others and then be open to receive God.