A Christmas Sermon

A sermon I gave today at a lunchtime carol service for business people.


Cecil Francis Alexander was an Irish poet who lived in the Victorian Era and was the wife of a bishop. However, she is perhaps most famous for writing the words to the popular CHristmas carol, “Once in Royal David’s City”. You might have thought that having a bishop in the house would have helped her with getting the words right! I have issues with verse 3 of “Once in Royal David’s City” which speaks of the childhood of Jesus.

Jesus as we’ve heard in our reading is described as Saviour, Christ (which means anointed one), Son of God, King of the Jews, Word of God (which means God’s presence and action) and Immanuel (which means God With Us)

Let me read this controversial verse from Once in royal that we have just sung.

And through all His wondrous childhood
He would honour and obey,
Love and watch the lowly Maiden,
In whose gentle arms He lay:

All ok so far – Jesus would have grown up as a normal Jewish child and would have learned from his parents and obeyed them. But here’s where I start to have problems…

Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

My problem with this is not only that it is a completely unrealistic expectation – we’re never going to be as obedient as God-made-flesh Jesus. My problem is that these lines completely misunderstand what Jesus came to do.

Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.

It is a common misconception that God will only love us if we are good. Some people go through their whole lives working on that basis.  God will only like me if I follow the rules. God will only like me if I get good grades and university and get a good job. God will only like me if I give lots of money to charity. Some people go through their whole lives believing that for every good thing they do, God puts a tick, or a gold star next to their name, and for every bad thing they do God puts a black mark that he will hold against us.

If we live by this  scale, we are just going to feel more and more dissatisfied with ourselves. I give to charity… but them I’m rude to my wife. I work hard and provide for my family… but then I neglect to spend time with them. I try and care about the environment.. but then I do nothing about the homelessness in my own city. For every good thing we do, a bad thing comes along right behind it. We’re all going to get black marks against us, because we all slip up and fail.

The Bible is quite realistic about this. In the New Testament, in the book of Romans, the author, Paul, says this –

Rom 3:23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

Surely we all deserve to be separate from God because we just can’t be good enough for him.

But the coming of Jesus is Good News. It is news that can give us hope, and let us know that we are loved and accepted by God despite the fact that we slip up so frequently.

Jesus did not come to give us a standard to live up to, –  God knows that that would not be possible. Jesus came to be that standard for us. So yes, he lived that perfect life. He was good, sinless. He spent time with those that no-one else cared about. But what did he get for it? He was put to death. He died a death that he didn’t deserve.  But then raised to life again. Even death couldn’t separate him from God because He was God. He was perfect.

How is that good news for us? The Apostle Paul also wrote this in Romans

Rom 3:21- 22 But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, [without needing us to do good things]…  22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

The good news of Christmas is that God does not need us to work our way to him by doing good things. God has come to us, become human in Jesus. God accepts us regardless of what we have done or how we have lived, because he has sent Jesus. Jesus has lived that perfect life for us.

So, Jesus invites us to come to him, place our faith and trust in him, to put our lives in his control. And when we do that, he takes our failures and inadequacies and sins, and overlooks them.

God looks at us, and sees Jesus’ perfection. Jesus is the only way we can come to God because he is God.
The Chrsitmas carol said:

Christian children all must be
Mild, obedient, good as He.?

No. Christian children all must trust in Jesus, because he is perfect, and he has made it possible for us to be accepted by him. Those words may not scan into the carol, but it is certainly good news.

John 1:12 Yet to all who received Jesus, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.


Our next carol is one I have no problems with!..
O Little Town of Bethlehem.


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