Christmas Midnight Service 2023

25 Dec 2023

Christmas Midnight Service 2023

Passage Isaiah 9:2-7

Speaker Ben Tanner


Transcript (Auto-generated)

This transcript has been automatically generated, and therefore may not be 100% accurate.

Isaiah, chapter nine. Starting to read at verse two. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in the land of deep darkness. A light has dawned.

You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy. They rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them. The bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. And the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace, of the greatness of his government. And peace there will be no end. He will reign on Davids throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness.

From that time on and forever, the zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Thank you so much, Liz. We're going to spend a bit of time just looking at some of those verses from that, so do keep your passage open in front of you. So I'm going to start just by asking God to help us. We do a whole load of strange things around Christmas. Coming to church near midnight is one of them.

And I'm dressed as. I'm not usually dressed. We don't normally like this place with candles. It's a strange time. But let's ask God to help us hear him.

Even in the strangeness of Christmas.

Father God, we've just read the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. Our world feels quite dark at the moment, both literally and metaphorically. I pray that we would see Jesus this evening. And, Father, as we see him, would we see him as a great light, Father, not just something by which we enjoy Christmas a little bit more, but the guiding light of our lives, the one who brings us true hope, fulfilment, happiness, wisdom and life. So, Father, would you speak through me now?

I pray? Amen. Someone once said, what the world needs now is love. Sweet love. Some of you guys know that song very well, and that's always been true, hasn't it?

But perhaps it feels particularly true. Well, this year, at the moment, we particularly feel that. And of course, then the question comes, what shape will that love come in? One of the most depressing things that I read comes out in January each year. It's published by the Global Economic Forum and it's their report on global risk factors.

In other words, things that are going to be risky next year. Here are some of the ones that they brought up from last year. It comes out every January. So January last year, they thought the cost of living crisis was going to be big. Natural disasters and extreme weather events, geoeconomic confrontation, essentially trade wars between countries, failure to mitigate climate change, erosion of social cohesion and increase of social polarisation.

And of course, when they wrote that, they didn't know. They didn't know about the war in Israel Palestine. They didn't necessarily know fully that the former president and the son of the current president of the USA would both be indicted. They didn't know about the coup in Niger, the wildfires in Hawaii, Turkey, Greece, Canada. It can go on and on.

Of course, they didn't know about the Titan sub imploding. We live in a world, don't we? That feels so very complex, so very unexpected, so very broken.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love. And yet what shape will that love come in? A passage today speaks to people who are walking in darkness. And it makes a promise about a boy. A boy who's got four names.

And we're going to look just very quickly at those four names that boy is given. And the first is there. It's wonderful, counsellor. Any government worth its salt needs a good counsellor. Somebody who will give good counsel.

Think Chris Whitty giving good advice. Somebody who understands what's going on and is able to advise those in power. If Chris Whitty's a bit too highbrow, think Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh. You see, we need somebody who can understand and give direction. But in a world as complex as this world, who understands the complexities of nation against nation, can you really say you fully understand what's going on in the Middle East?

I can't, frankly. Who even understands what's going on in our minds? Who understands what's going on around the dinner table? The dynamics at play. And yet this baby is called the wonderful counsellor.

Wonderful in the Bible is often used for things that talk about God's works. In other words, this counsellor, this one who brings wisdom and insight, will bring the very wisdom and insight that God himself has. And in fact, we see that a little bit. He grows up and we see him confounding some of the wisest minds of his age. He says pithy sayings, things that.

That are quoted by millions around this world, even 2000 years later. In fact, his ideology has shaped entire nations for the last 2000 years. This child is a counsellor who has the very wisdom of God himself. And yet wise counsel can sometimes not be followed. If we move from the COVID briefing room with Chris Whitty to the battlefield in the Ukraine, President Zelenskyy might.

Well. Well, it's all very well having great advice and wisdom, but what if you don't have the power to see it through?

Well, love came in the shape of the wonderful counsellor, but he also had that other name, mighty God.

We long for mighty rulers, don't we? Not necessarily hugely physically powerful rulers, although they can be useful, but potent people. People who are able to affect change, people who are able to carry out what they say they will do, people who can actually keep us safe. We long for those who are mighty. Don't get me wrong, might is not always right.

But might that is right is a delight, isn't it? Yeah. Some of us are thinking, how can you possibly look at a little baby in a manger and call him mighty? Really? A baby?

Maybe that line from the lion king's going around your head. I want to be a mighty king. Please beware. Well, I've never seen a king or beast with quite so little hair. But what is this tiny little baby going to do?

How is he mighty even when he grows up? An itinerant preacher. A weak man nailed to a cross. And yet again, here, what we see is that his name gives us a clue. He's called the mighty God.

Elsewhere in the Bible, God is described in all sorts of ways. In psalm 115, it says, our God is in heaven. Whatever pleases him, he alone is God. And there's no one like him. You see, the God of the Bible is the one who is in need of nothing outside himself to make himself fully alive.

In other words, he is the only one who can truly do what he wills without any coercion or manipulation. He doesn't need anything and so no one can hold him hostage to it. That is the mighty God who is uncorruptible. And he proved it. Yes, by dying on the cross, but then by defeating our greatest enemy, by defeating even death itself.

The God of the Bible is a God who is ultimately mighty. One writer, early christian writer, wrote this about the God of the Bible. It said, what can you worthily say of him who is loftier than all sublimity, higher than all height, and deeper than all depth, and clearer than all light, and brighter than all brightness, and more brilliant than all splendour, and stronger than all strength, and more powerful than all power, and more mighty than all might, and greater than all majesty, and more potent than all potency, and richer than all riches, and more wise than all wisdom, and more kind than all kindness, and better than all goodness, and juster than all justice, and more merciful than all clemency. The babe in the manger is the mighty God. All the world needs now is love, sweet love, a love that understands and is there, a love that is potent, able to make a difference in this world.

But he also needs to be a God who is always there. That's where that third name comes in, we see. He's also this baby in the manger, an everlasting father. In other words, he's not like that present that you pick up from the middle aisle at Aldi, you know, that looks great for about five minutes, and then by Christmas afternoon it's already broken. No, this is the one who is everlasting.

Isn't it strange at Christmas how many of the kind of popular Christmas songs we listen to, tinged with a sense of sadness for those who aren't here? All I want for Christmas is you. Oh, I don't want a lot for Christmas, she says. This is all I'm asking for. I just want to see my baby standing outside my door, or they're singing deck the halls.

But it's not like Christmas at all, because I remember when you were here and all the fun we had last year. Of course, for some of us, Christmas is deeply painful, because we remember those who we long were here, but we're acutely aware that they're not with us. You see, if this baby of Christmas is really what this world needs, then he has to be always with us, doesn't he? He has to be eternal. And that's exactly what this name says.

He is everlasting. There was never a time when he wasn't. There'll never be a time when he isn't. In other words, there's never a time when you reach out to this God and he's not there. But don't confuse everlasting with being distant.

He's called the everlasting father, like the father in that story Jesus told, the one who forgives and embraces his child, even when that child rebels against him and runs away. Like that father in the nativity story, as Joseph looks at his baby son and gathers him to his chest, that picture of love and intimacy you see, the child in the manger both knows eternity and cuddles us to his breast like a father who protects and provides. Who else could be so intimately present in every moment as one who is not constrained by time?

What the world needs now is love. Sweet love. A wise counsellor. A mighty God able to effect change. An everlasting father that won't wear out.

A prince of peace.

Why is it that even just saying those words, our hearts yearn for peace, dont we? Jesus is called our perfect peace. He is the shalom maker, the peace giver. Weve just said Christ himself is our peace. And thats odd in that hes also described as the mighty God, the one whos powerful and able to effect change.

He went to war in order that he could conquer the grave and could stand with Thomas. And on Easter Sunday, what do we remember him saying as he was resurrected from the grave? He said, peace be with you. See, by his life and by his death, this baby made peace between us and God. He destroyed the hostility, the barrier of sin that stood between us.

And that means that if you know this baby tonight, God is at peace with you. There is no hostility in his heart towards you. He's not like the big guy on the sleigh, making a list and checking it twice, seeing if you're naughty or nice. No, this God is entirely for you. There is no reservation.

When he reaches out his arms to embrace you. He paid the price, destroying hostilities and securing a day when that peace between us and God is seen in this world. He promises an end to broken relationships, to ambulances in the night, to racism, to war of any kind. A day when we will no longer fight with violence, viruses or villains, the terrorists or tyrants. Don't we long for the fullness of that peace in our hearts and in the world?

What the world needs now is love. Sweet love. And that love came in the form of the baby.

The baby who is the wonderful counsellor. The mighty God, the prince of peace and the everlasting father. And so my question for you simply tonight is, will you accept him as your wonderful counsellor? The one who gives you wise counsel, that you will follow as your mighty God, who you will trust, will make things right, will defeat even your biggest enemy, as your everlasting father, the one you can call out to and know he is always intimately present as your prince of peace, who will offer you peace beyond understanding, peace with God, and eventually peace with this world as well. If that's something that sounds new to you, or you'd like to find out more about, why not scan that QR code just on the back of your service sheet?

It's not signing you up for anything, but on there you can let us know if you're interested. We've got a short course. It's called Hope explored, exploring hope, hope, peace and purpose that as christians we believe Jesus brings to us. You can scan it tonight, forget all about it, and I will give you an email in January and we can talk about what days might work and whether you're still interested. But it's a great thing to do.

But whatever else happens, let me wish you the very merriest of Christmases and a very happy new year. I pray that you will find what christians have celebrated for long enough and become so excited about that. We would get up in the middle of the night to light some candles, to dress in funny clothes and to be excited about the birth of this prince of peace. We're actually going to sing about him being that beautiful light in our next carol.