A very happy Christmas to you and to your families and to all who will listen to this sermon.
The joy of this day is vital medicine for the ills of the world.

I wonder if you can source these words:

The juice of a carrot the smile of parrot
A little drop of claret anything that rocks

They come from a song with the title Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3 by Ian Drury and the Blockheads, released in 1979. Ian Drury was one of the best poets of punk. The song basically is a long list of reasons to get out of bed in the morning. Not all the lines can be repeated in church but here’s another that can:

A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it,
You’re welcome we can spare it, yellow socks.

If you don’t know Reasons to be Cheerful you may want to think instead of My Favourite Things from the Sound of Music: Rainbows on roses and whiskers on kittens; bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens. More schmaltzy but the same message.

Christmas offers all of us after a hard and difficult year a long list of reasons not to be cheerful but even better to be joyful. Most of us will not need reminding this morning of the darkness in the world. We witness the indescribable suffering in Yemen and Ukraine, in Gaza and Israel and other forgotten conflicts. We see the growing inequalities in our own country and across the world. We hear the groaning of creation, as the earth continues year by year to grow warmer with disastrous consequences for nature, for our present and our future. The lives of colleagues and family, friends and neighbours are blighted by illness to a much greater degree than a few years ago.

But amid all of this, this Christmas story we are telling is an invitation to joy. These are the angels words spoken into the darkness:

Do not be afraid; for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord.

The multitude of the heavenly host sing the words which were sung to us a few moments ago and which we will sing again again in Hark the Herald:

Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favours

According to Luke’s gospel, when Jesus is born, everyone bursts into song: first Zecheriah, then Mary then the angels, then Simeon. There is a note of irrepressible joy which runs through the nativity story. The light and joy break in in spite of the pain and the darkness. There is a harsh Roman occupation. Faith burns low in Israel. Joseph and Mary face a long hard journey. The child is born in a stable and laid in a manger. There is poverty and distress in Bethlehem as in our world today. But the message of joy cuts deeper even than the pain and distress of occupation and conflict and poverty.

Ian Drury sings of reasons to be cheerful. But joy is very different from cheerfulness. To be cheerful is to grin and bear it, to smile though your heart is aching, to whistle into the wind. That sometimes helps on difficult days if we can do it. But cheerfulness lives on the surface of our lives not in the realities of our grieving. Cheerfulness and pain find it hard to live together in the same heart for very long. One drives out or suppresses the other.

But joy is different. Joy has a way of acknowledging all of the pain and sorrow we carry and yet going deeper, connecting us to the source of our life. Joy can take up residence alongside all manner of loss and difficulty and suffering because joy represents a deeper truth and a deeper reality and a deeper story at work.

Joy flows from the wonder of God’s gift in Jesus Christ, from the truth that God comes to be with us; from the reality that God is present in our world in every place of darkness and suffering; from the understanding that Jesus Christ has come to save the world from every fear and darkness and sorrow, to win our salvation and to build Christ’s kingdom of justice and peace for ever.

Our joy today is like coals on a fire which has burned very low. As we listen again to the story of Jesus birth and as we ponder and reflect in these 12 days of Christmas, it is these flames of joy which need to burst into life again within us and set us alight for God once more.

So ponder the story and find the joy in your faith once again. Joy in the good news that sins are forgiven. Joy in the presence of the Saviour. Joy in the humility of God. Joy in the faithfulness and obedience and vision of Mary. Joy in the shepherds racing to the stable. Joy in the slow journey of the magi. Joy in music of this season and in the worship of the church. Joy in the invitation to gather around his table. Joy in being called back into life and service. Joy in offering our very selves.

In this joy find the renewal for which your heart is so very thirsty. Drink and be refreshed and be strengthened then for service. We have a king to serve. We have a faith to share. We have a church which needs to be renewed. We have a world to change. We have a kingdom to build in the power and strength and joy which Jesus gives.

Let me finish with some lines in the style of Ian Drury. Reasons to be Joyful Parts 1, 2 and 3:

Angels in glory, a wonderful story
Choirs adulatory, life changing news

From darkness comes light, a gift in the night
The Saviour is born, the King of the Jews

A journey in danger, a child in a manger
The infant world changer God’s gift to the earth

Shepherds run to his stable as swift as they’re able
Come now to his table and feast at his birth

Mary ponders the myst’ry, this pivot of history
Through pain will come victory the Saviour of all

Sing joy at this birth, bring gifts for his worth
Rejoice in his coming and wait for his call.