The work of Christmas begins: report of this morning’s sermon from Joyce Mitchell


Joyce Mitchell was leading the service this morning – a love-filled service, I thought..  Her Bible readings were Isaiah 42:1-9; Isaiah 61:1-2 and Galatians 4:4-7.

The verses from Isaiah 61 are the ones from which Jesus quoted at the very start of his ministry (he omitted the second part of verse 2):

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn.

While Galatians 4:4-7 reminds us that as God’s children we have received the gift of the Spirit.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

As Joyce was reading these passages, it struck me that the Spirit of God is upon, in, with each one of us, and that like Jesus, we are called to be proclaimers of good news, comforters of those who mourn, proclaiming freedom from the things which bind and oppress.

And this was precisely Joyce’s theme in her sermon.

Is Christmas past?

We’re almost at the start of a new year, she began. Christmas is past.

‘Oh yes it is’ she continued, pantomime-style.

‘Oh no it’s not!’

For a start, Christmas is a season, rather than just one day. Thhe 25th Decmber is the start of ‘the twelve days of Christmas’ leading up to Epiphany on 6th Jannuary, when we remember the revealing of Jesus when he was presented at the Temple.

Then Joyce talked about Christmas presents – a theme she’d also discussed earlier with the children. She had particularly emphasised the gifts we give which don’t cost us anything, telling us about a recently-widowed neighbour who volunteered on Christmas Day at a church providing meals for homeless people. That was a gift – and in giving, she also was blessed and comforted.

Saying ‘thankyou’ for a gift is in itself a gift; as is hugging those we love, and smiling when people help us.

We give, she reminded the children, because of God’s great gift to us.

Giving gifts – all year round

Joyce invited us to share about significant gifts we had received over Christmas, and some people commented, including the lady who was so grateful to have her family all together for the celebrations.

Joyce continued ‘Sometimes a very small gift can be the most precious rather than something costly or exotic.’ She told us about someone who, having had a difficult year, nevertheless took time to search out a shop selling Joyce’s favourite toffees and buy her some.

Doreen ChurchShe told us about Doreen, a friend and former neighbour in Edinburgh who had many troubles in her life, and several bereavements. Doreen heard about a local art class involving mostly older people, and went along to help. But while there, she tried painting herself, found she had a talent for it, and discovered that creating pictures blessed and helped her. And she painted a picture specially for Joyce of the local church where Joyce had worked. This painting was a very special gift, a reminder of all they had shared.

In gift-giving, it’s often the ‘why’ that matters – why the present is chosen, why the words are said – than the ‘what’ – the gift itself. Joyce asked us to reflect on the gifts we have given, on our motivation for giving, and on the significance of the gift to the recipient.

And of course, giving is an all-year-round thing: every day we have the opportunity to give in some way to many people – bringing peace, and comfort, and hope, and love.

Twelve Days of Christmas

And then Joyce reminded us of the song – sometimes thought of as a carol – The twelve days of Christmas.  ‘We might’, she said, ‘consider this very flippant, but do you k now its hidden meaning?’

It was written at a time when the Roman Catholic Church was under pressure and even persecution and was unable to celebrate Christmas as they would have wished.  The song was devised to symbolise their beliefs and could be sung openly without their oppressors being aware of what it really meant.

A Partridge in a Pear Tree  - Jesus
2 Turtle Doves – the Old and New Testaments
3 French Hens – faith, hope and love
4 Calling Birds – The four gospels
5 Golden Rings – the ‘Torah’; the five books of ‘the law’ in the Old Testament
6 Geese a Laying – the six days of creation
7 Swans a Swimming – the seven gifts of God’s Spirit
8 Maids a Milking – The beatitudes (‘Blessed are the….’) in Matthew 5
9 Ladies Dancing – The fruits of the Spirit
10 Lords a Leaping – the ten commandments
11 Pipers Piping – the eleven disciples who remained faithful
12 Drummers Drumming – the points of belief in the Apostle’s Creed

The gifts God gives us

Today, is the seventh day of Christmas – so we’re thinking about the ‘swans a-swimming’, the gifts of God’s Spirit which in Catholic teaching number seven: wisdom, understanding, counsel (the knowledge of right and wrong), fortitude (courage), knowledge (discernment of what God is saying), piety (reverence), and fear of the Lord (wonder and awe.)

But, said Joyce

let us reflect on all the gifts Jesus gives to us, costly to him and priceless to us. Most obviously, he gives us salvation, through his death in our place which in turn brings us, through forgiveness, freedom from past sins. He offers us freedom from whatever binds or imprisons, or holds us back. He gives us fresh confidence and new vision, enabling us to look ahead with hope and anticipation.

Through his presence with us as he promised, we can receive the gift of peace in heart and mind enabling us to walk calmly through whatever life brings.

But the greatest gift is that of the Spirit within us, imparting abilities to bless and witness to others.

Of course, in saying this, Joyce was reminding us that through the Spirit, Jesus is present within us, continuing his work of blessing the world as described in Isaiah 61:1-2.

Gifts of the Spirit

Joyce read 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, where St Paul gives his list of the gifts of the Spirit:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

And Joyce reminded us that besides the gifts of the Spirit, there are the fruits of the Spirit (day 9 in the song) – fruits which God wants to grow in us.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  (Galatians 5:22-23)

Open to God in 2018

Perhaps we should make a New Year resolution open ourselves up to a fresh infilling of God’s gift of God’s Spirit, to help us consider the attitudes and actions which need changed in our loves, to open our eyes to new possibilities, to inspire us to act in God’s name.

The work of Christmas begins

And Joyce concluded ‘We may not all be called to be prophets or have miraculous powers, but we can all share our knowledge of God’s love and care in practical ways according to the abilities we do have.’

And we listened to a wonderful song reminding us that though the Christmas season will soon be past, the work of Christmas continues, and is in our hands.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music from the heart.

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