Sermon - Christmas Day 2018

The following sermon was delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Russell Barr on Christmas Day 2018.

Scripture: John 1: 1-14

Glory to God in the highest, sang the Christmas angels, and on earth peace…………….and yet the tragedy is that, whether then or now, a just and lasting peace is conspicuous by its absence in the Holy Land of our Saviour’s birth.

Two thousand years ago ancient Palestine was subject to an army of occupation while today the landscape is dotted with illegal settlements, military check points and a separation wall.

John McCulloch is the Church of Scotland’s minister at St Andrews Memorial Church in Jerusalem. 

Appointed earlier this year John and his wife and children live in Bethlehem, some seven miles south of Jerusalem and in a recent letter John wrote;

Some weeks back I took the bus from St Andrews Scots Memorial Church in Jerusalem to Checkpoint 300, which is one of four checkpoints that lead into Bethlehem.

The bus drops you just outside and everyone gets off and begins to walk through the metal turnstiles that take you to the other side of the wall.

On the other side, a cacophony of fruit sellers and taxi drivers call out to passers-by in the hope of earning a few more shekels.

What strikes me after being here for the last eight months is how crossing checkpoints and lines of heavily armed soldiers can become so normalised.

And yet, in a context of political structural injustice and military occupation, it is important as Martin Luther King Jr once said, to remember that our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.

Amid all the challenges of living and working in Israel, one of the places John draws inspiration from is a farm called the Tent of Nations

For three generations the Nassar family have farmed their hill-top farm south-west of Bethlehem harvesting their olive grove and tending their vineyard.

The Nassar family refuse to be silent about the things that matter and on a rock at the entrance to their farm they have painted the words We refuse to be enemies.

In a culture and a context marked by conflict, suspicion, hatred and violence their commitment to the radical pursuit of peace and justice is truly inspirational.

Over the years the Israeli government has harassed them, cut off their electricity and water supply and blocked their road with boulders and yet they continue to plant trees and tend their olive grove and vineyard and, in doing so, embody Christian non-violence to those who would deprive them of their land, their livelihood, their humanity, their dignity and their faith.

The Nassar family show us what it looks like when people refuse to be enemies – and in their refusal create the space for healing and reconciliation.

Their commitment also points us to the deep truth we celebrate today, the deep truth of what it means for the Word to become flesh and to live among us full of grace and truth.

A child lies in a manger, wrapped not just in swaddling bands but in his mother’s love - and soon Herod will plot the child’s death.

Light and dark, good and evil, the world at its best, the world at its worst: the contrasts are at the very heart of the Christmas story as God comes among us to show us a different way and a better way.

Costly, demanding; yes it is, for God and for us, yet on Christmas morning what greater gift for the Church and its people to offer the world today than to join with John McCulloch, the Nassar family and many others in refusing to be enemies and refusing to be silent about the things that matter.