Wednesday, 1 February 2012

All you need is love

Christmas Eve 2011

Very uncharacteristically for me in one of my sermons, I am going to tell a joke… now if you are of a nervous disposition, you may wish to turn away now! And also, as I’ve prompted you… do prepare to laugh as it will make me feel so much better!

The Virgin Mary dies and goes to heaven. At the pearly gates she is welcomed by Saint Peter who says, ‘How lovely to see you Mary. We have been looking forward to your arrival and everything is ready for you. Before you come in however, there is one thing I have always wanted to ask you: in all the paintings, frescoes, icons and drawing I have seen, you always look so miserable and I have wondered why this is.” Mary paused, took a deep breath and replies, “Well you see Peter, I always wanted a girl.”

Now, if you are offended by this joke – please don’t be… there is a reason for telling it, I promise.

When I was growing up, I knew that Christmas was on its way when my grandmother would slip into a phone call – never very subtly, “and what would you like for Christmas this year?” What you have to know is why this became an annual source of amusement for the rest of the family: the question wasn’t asked in early December or even mid-November. It would be in September – usually in the phone call that took place to wish her a Happy Birthday. I loved my Grandmother dearly, and whilst the rest of the family laughed about this annual ritual – and the earliness of it – we knew that the reason my Grandmother asked was because she wished to give us what we really wanted. She didn’t want to give us a gift that would remain un-used or unwanted, she wanted to give a gift that really mattered to us and that would be treasured.

I imagine many of you will have had a similar question asked of you in the past weeks or months – though hopefully not as far back as September! You may also have left subtle notes around, or dropped not-so-subtle hints if you haven’t been asked what you would like. And, indeed, you may well have asked others what they would like. It only occurred to me on Thursday evening that what would like for Christmas this year is some new lights for my bike as mine keep falling off and I can never get any to stay on: someone who could solve that problem for me would be have provided a great present indeed.

Now it may be that when you get home tonight you will open a present or two, and tomorrow many more may well come your way – but I wonder if you, like me, will find that the present that may be most appreciated is the one that is unexpected – the one that we either hadn’t realised we would like or need, or that we hadn’t even hoped to receive because we hadn’t mentioned it to anyone. The unexpected, but appreciated gift will be given by the person who will have been alert to us, noticing things in which we show an interest, things we seem to like but to which we never treat ourselves, or even things which express the desire of our hearts or our deepest longings and to which we never realise we give expression. These presents are true gift because they show that someone has been paying attention to us when we didn’t notice it.

Now I have no idea whether Mary would have really liked to give birth to a girl – and she may well have had one later after Jesus was born, I don’t know… and the joke I told at the beginning is not meant to be taken seriously, honest. Where it links into Christmas for us in a more serious fashion, is that the loveliest gift that humanity has ever been given is an unexpected gift – the gift of love. God listened to the desires of the hearts of his people and he knew that what was most needful was the gift of love.

This may sound slight and insignificant… was love really all that God had to offer? Was this really what the people needed?

When you think about it, though - isn’t this what we all need? Isn’t what each of us wants to know, deep in our hearts, where we rarely risk letting others into, isn’t what each of us desires with longing hearts the gift of love: to know that we are loved, that we are lovable and that we are worth loving. This is the gift that God gave so long ago, and it is the gift that God gives to us again each Christmas. God says: you are loveable, you are worth loving, I love you.

In the words spoken to the Shepherds: ‘Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’

This was good news for the people all that time ago – and it is good news for us now. It is not the gift that many of us will have asked for, but it is the gift we most need. It isn’t necessarily the gift that will come in the way we expect it, but it is the gift that will satisfy us, as well as make us want to receive it more. This gift, the gift of the love of God, may sound glib and seemingly nothing new, or even important when I witter on about it from the pulpit this evening - but this gift, as the Beetles would say, this gift is all you need. It is the beginning and the end, it is perfect and it casts out all fear, it is what each of us needs – you and me together – and this love is given freely and without end.

The Beetles sang, Love is all you need, and it is a wonderful truth.  There is also a beautiful poem by Christine Rossetti which is set to music by John Rutter which I did think I might sing to you (although I could have offered the Beetles too, I guess!), but this version of Rossetti’s poem is ever-so much more lovely.

As you listen, ponder how you might wish to receive God’s love for you this Christmas, and invite God to reveal his love to you. As you listen, ponder how you may already know God’s love for you, and pray for the strength and grace to know it more. As you listen, if you feel you are unlovable – open your heart, in however faltering a fashion, and even if it is only like opening a door a tiny way, open your heart and know that this gift, this precious gift of love, this gift is for you.

Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
Star and angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine;
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

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