Victory is Here

boy holding yellow flower while singing

Christmas Day – 25th December 2021

“Christmas” is the church’s celebration of the incarnation and nativity of Jesus Christ. At the Nativity of the Lord and throughout the season of Christmas we give thanks that, in the fullness of time, God’s Word became flesh to live among us, full of grace and truth. We proclaim this good news of great joy for all people: that God has sent us a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. We bear witness to the light of Christ that has come into the world, the light that darkness cannot overcome. (Book of Worship PC(USA)).

Our lectionary reading today is from John’s Gospel. It is the epitome of high christology. It takes our Lord’s origin back before Time existed. Its good news is something we sing about as Christians. Last night, our entire service was lessons and carols. Singing helps articulate our hearts when our minds cannot always find the words to articulate. Sometimes it is easier to sing our faith than to talk about it. With that in mind, our Christmas message is inspired by Psalm 98. It encourages us to sing!

Sing for Victory

Our Psalm encourages us to sing a new song to make known God’s victory for marvellous things that has vindicated God’s people.

Does talk of victory sound hollow after the dismal year of Covid-19’s return? There is a bigger picture.

2021 has been the year where we have become vaccinated as a nation. Yes, there are some who have not, but for the most part, we have. That is a cause for celebration. And to add to its joy:

The AIDS Epidemiology Group at the University of Otago announced in May that the number of people diagnosed with HIV in New Zealand had fallen to its lowest rate since the early 2000s, with 95 people diagnosed here in 2020. HIV infections have declined in the US by 73 per cent since a mid-80s peak, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and have declined globally by 31 per cent since 2010. Meanwhile, in the US, a new HIV vaccine shows early promise. China has eliminated malaria. And August 25 marked the first anniversary of Africa’s elimination of polio… For that, you can thank our good friend, the vaccine.

stuff.co.nz

A opinion columnist postulated whether 2021 and the Covid-19 crisis is the worse year since WW2. I suppose the question indicates how protected we have been comparing a pandemic to human beings slaughtering each other; nevertheless, the question carries with it the sentiment of the masses. We feel like we have been a fight looking for victory. We may have lost some battles, but it looks like we are winning the war.

In recent decades, wild animal populations have plunged amid habitat loss, climate change, pollution, poaching, and interactions with invasive species. But there are positive trends happening worldwide. (globalcitizen.org)

Let us remember his steadfast love and faithfulness through the battles we have fought this year and won by God’s grace.

Sing for Joy

Our Psalm encourages us to make a noise!

Christmas carols always seem to bring out the best in people. It’s as if we can travel back in time to a place where life was less complicated and Christmas was full of joy and magic. The churches fill with people and in our villages, towns and cities people meet to stand together in the cold to sing songs [or the heat down under].

Dominic Walker

There has been much sorrow and depression in 2021. Many of us lost friends and family members. That in itself is sad but compounded with the loss has been the inability to grieve with others due to Covid-related restrictions. Others of us pine to visit family and loved ones overseas. Yet we count our blessings for being in Aotearoa during the pandemic.

How do we sing for joy when faced with such adversities?

The Psalmist is not being silly. There is history behind the singing. There were sorrows, deaths, temptations, and despair. There were feelings of abandonment, experiences of abuse, and wonder if a new day would ever come.

But it did come.

Christ is here! That is the cause of our singing!

Every Sunday, we gather as Christians in testimony to the fact that Christ’s grave was discovered empty on the first day of the week. Our faith that has been faithfully handed down through the centuries is one of joy in the midst of sorry. The early church were encouraged to sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. That was in spite of government overreach, persecution unto death, and deceiving wolves amid their flocks.

My dear friend, Jesus brings a peace that passes all human understanding. The contentment gained from Christ’s words goes beyond human reason. The reality is that Christ’s presence puts a song in our heart. When we do not feel like singing, there still is a song deep down inside bursting to come forth and spray all with its words.

I suppose that is what makes Christmas carols so fun. They are not all deeply theological and some bordering on irreverent but all glorify the Incarnation of God as a human. Growing up in the northern hemisphere, it never occurred to me that 10% of the world’s population have an upside down Christmas. Living down under, I’ve been introduced to joyous songs about Christmas that would make no sense on the other side of the equator – and that is fun. One of the carols I look forward to singing with you all next year is the Pohutakawa Tribute.

Twas in Bethlehem that the Christ had birth,
that the shepherds learned of God’s gift to earth.
There in rosy dawn angels sang his worth:
And the glory shone all bright around;
heavenly glory shone around.

Full three thousand leagues from the manger bed,
a New Zealand tree decked itself in red.
“Tis to honour him I do this,” it said:
And the glory shone all bright around;
crimson glory shone around.

Called Pohutukawa – its Maori name,
still at every Christmas it does the same:
So that cliff and headland are all aflame:
and the glory shines all bright around;
crimson glory shines around.

Using whatever instrument to enhance our voices, we offer praise to the King, the Lord God who Created all things.

Sing for Judgement

Finally, our Psalm encourages the multitude to sing together for the Lord is coming to judge with righteousness and equity. However, I am conscious of the fact many do not see joy in Christ’s coming. Many dread it because their hearts are not right and they don’t want them to be! They do not like the idea that there is an outside Being that has the right to judge their actions. Are we not all good people? Do we not all have our own truth? Who is God to be my judge? And so many reject God because of their idealisation of their self. They somehow feel that they are their own god that can determine their own judgement.

A teaching professor at Harvard University tells the story of the year his 5-year-old son was working on an art project in his kindergarten class. It was made of plaster, resembled nothing in particular, but with some paint, sparkle and time in a kiln, it was ready to be wrapped as a gift. He wrapped it himself, and was beside himself with excitement. It would be a gift for his father, one three months in the making.

Early in December, when the child could hardly contain the secret, the last day of school finally came. All the parents arrived for the big Christmas play, and when the students left for home, they were finally allowed to take their ceramic presents home. The professor’s son secured his gift, ran toward his parents, tripped, and fell to the floor. The gift went airborne, and when it landed on the cafeteria floor, the shattering sound stopped all conversations. It was perfectly quiet for a moment, as all involved considered the magnitude of the loss. For a 5-year-old, there had never been a more expensive gift. He crumpled down on the floor next to his broken gift and just started crying.

Both parents rushed to their son, but the father was uncomfortable with the moment. People were watching. His son was crying. He patted the boy on the head and said, “Son, it’s OK – it doesn’t matter.” His wife glared at the great professor. “Oh yes, it matters,” she said to both of her men, “Oh yes, it does matter.” She cradled her son in her arms, rocked him back and forth, and cried with him.

In a few minutes, the crying ceased. “Now,” said the mother, “let’s go home and see what can be made with what’s left.” And so with mother’s magic and a glue gun, they put together from the broken pieces a multi-colored butterfly. Amazingly, the artwork after the tragedy was actually much more beautiful than what it had been in a pre-broken state.

At Christmas, the gift was finally given, and as long as he taught at Harvard, the professor kept the butterfly on his desk. It was a constant reminder that grief is real, and that loss hurts. It was also a reminder that from great loss, great beauty can eventually emerge. (Andy Cook)

Is your heart in such a condition where it can see with joy in anticipation of Christ’s coming? Or are there issues you are apprehensive about Christ finding? Let me encourage you – it is Christmas Day! It is a day where we all want to have songs of joy emanating from our hearts.

In closing, let me address what may sound odd about our Psalm: it is encourage songs of joy at the coming of judgement! Singing about impending doom doesn’t seem right for some peoples. But is not that what our grandparents did during WW2? 2021 was the 76th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. For many, the era is remembered for the popular songs of the day that inspired people to endure the hardship of war. Their songs were full of optimism!

‘We’ll Meet Again’, ‘The White Cliffs Of Dover’, ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’ and ‘The Lambeth Walk’. Wherever they were sung – in dance halls or factories, on the radio or the front line – they gave men and women the inspiration to carry on. Whatever happens, they said, we’ll have a barrel of fun, a lovely weekend, gather lilacs in the spring, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition and get lit-up while nightingales sing in Berkeley Square. It’s a sad irony that those words should have such resonance once more. Due to the ongoing pandemic many of us are uncertain when, how or if we’ll meet again, just as people wondered the same thing all through the frightening years of the Second World War.

udiscovermusic.com

It does help us understand how songs are about hope in the midst of despair. As God’s covenant people, we yearn to live in a society full of righteousness, truth, and equity. Our society is not there yet. As Christians we know it requires the coming of our Lord. Our songs are about a belief that victory is here!

Collect

Almighty God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit:  
We ask Your blessing on the people watching this video. 
May the despairing find hope—and proud be humbled. 
May the doubting find faith—and the anxious be encouraged. 
May the tempted find help—and the sorrowful find comfort. 
May the weary find rest—and the strong be renewed. 
May the lonely find a friend—and the cluttered find stillness. 
May the older one find consolation—and the younger be inspired. 
And may You find glory in our worship—and we find joy in You. 
Now, Lord: pour out Your Spirit of grace and love today 
as we together worship You on Christmas Day
– this we pray to Your glory … and in your name.  Amen.  (Richard Herman)


You can watch the sermon as part of worship service on our YouTube Channel here.

Published by St Johns Papatoetoe

Presbyterian Church, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe, Auckland, New Zealand belonging to Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ).

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