On New Year’s Eve we celebrated with other churches in the Lordsbridge Team Ministry at St Peter’s Barton, and the sermon was preached by the Revd David Newton, who shares his words with us here.
Preacher: Revd David Newton
Date: 31 December 2017 (1st Sunday of Christmas)
Readings: Luke 2:15-21, Isaiah 61:10-62:3
It got to about 5pm on New Year’s Eve. Mum was busy in the kitchen putting the finishing touches to the pudding she (and Dad) were taking to their friend’s house.
In previous years I had gone with them. A bunch of young teenagers were shoved upstairs so the adults could enjoy their civilised dinner in peace. I think they thought it was safer than letting us have our own party – mistaken perhaps!
The year came though when we let off the reigns.
And so here I was, with mum downstairs in the kitchen, hours before I was due out, wondering what to wear. A girl I fancied was coming to this party so I wanted to dress to impress. I tried on this outfit and that one, before settling on the blue shirt. Always blue. I did my hair – I might have even spiked it in some ridiculous way that made me look like Sonic the Hedgehog. But here I was, in my teenage mind at least, dressed and ready for this party.
Perhaps many of you will dress up for tonight, to celebrate the year that has been, or celebrate that it is finally over as you cling to the hope that 2018 might be better.
Our passage from Isaiah draws on this idea of dressing up. It talks of a bridegroom decking himself with a garland and a bride adorning herself with jewels. No one dresses up quite like a bride and groom. The bride needs three helpers as she struggles into her thousand pound dress, and the groom trots off to Moss Bros to pick up these strange suits called ‘tails’ that makes him and his groomsmen look like penguins.
They put such outlandish costumes on to celebrate their love, to have the party of a lifetime.
I suppose you could talk about the strange outfit I exhibit before you today as my party dress. This is what I wear as we come together to celebrate, in Word and Sacrament, the God who loves us and came to meet us in Christ. Every service of worship is at heart a party.
The first part of our passage from Isaiah is a party passage. Rejoice, be glad, for we have been dressed in the garments of salvation, we read. We’ve been dressed to the hilt by our loving God – to have a party of a lifetime.
Not a party that simply celebrate the passing of years, but celebrates the God who has set us free from sin, who has opened the door to life, who has brought healing to our souls.
As we enter into 2018 let’s (metaphorically) get dressed to party. Not just for one night, but for the year. For we are called to be people of joy, people who ‘Rejoice’.
Not because life is good or the boundary stone has fallen in pleasant places – it might not have. Not because we’re surrounded by friends or family who love us – we might not be. Not because work is enjoyable and money is good – it probably isn’t. But simply because we have a God who has clothed us with salvation.
Let us be like those Shepherd’s who, having met Jesus, ran away leaping for joy. We are those who have encountered the living Christ.
Let’s be dressed to party this year. There is no greater gift we could give the world than being people of joy.
People who know how to party – not to escape the reality and drudgery of life, but to celebrate that right in the midst of all that – God is here.
We get dressed to party.
But there is a second part to our Isaiah passage too…
Most mornings I climb out of bed at 6.30 and I do not put my party clothes on. I stumble to the wardrobe to try and find clothes to wear. Not a party outfit but my work clothes. For me that means some black trousers a clergy shirt, a jumper, and if I’m a cold a jacket too.
As I slowly begin to enter the land of the living I get dressed for work.
After our wonderful party image at the end of Isaiah 61 we have a work image at the beginning of Isaiah 62. The speakers says, ‘I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest… until… Jerusalem is a crown of beauty and a royal diadem.’
The speaker is probably being quite literal here. Jerusalem lies in ruins and the people of Israel are held in exile in Babylon. The so-called ‘suffering servant’ here speaks of the literal and physical fortunes of Jerusalem being restored – which happened to some degree under Ezra and Nehemiah.
But we, who read the OT through Jesus Christ, can read this passage in new ways. We hear Jerusalem as the church, or the Kingdom of God. Although the physical territory continues to dominate headlines, we look to a Kingdom not of this world.
And we are called upon to ‘not keep silent nor rest’ – that the church might shine forth with the glory of God, and that his Kingdom might be established.
This is our work, our mission if you like, and it is not easy. We are to open ourselves up to the transforming presence of Christ, and to let that presence so infuse our lives, that together as the church, we point to his love and his glory.
And… We are to partner with whoever is willing in establishing truth and justice, so that God’s Kingdom might flourish and spring up throughout the nations.
Each morning, in 2018, we get dressed for that.
But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
If we get dressed for work each day but never put on the party clothes, we’re in trouble. If we think our work is utterly crucial and that God is lost without us, we’re in trouble. If we drive ourselves into the ground working for church and kingdom, we’re in trouble.
This year, every day, god is calling us to get dressed to party and to work.
But I don’t really want to suggest that sometimes we work and sometimes we party; that we should wear clothes appropriate for the occasion.
Instead, perhaps more like the shepherds, we are to find that our humble work clothes are also our party clothes. And that partying with Jesus is in fact part of our work.
This year, let’s party as we work, and work as we party. As we rejoice in God’s promises and commit ourselves anew to seek his Kingdom. For we as the church are called to be the ‘working party’. Amen.