I’ve spoken twice recently for Carrubbers Christian Centre on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. One of these was the final sermon in an evangelistic series they have been doing entitled “A Better Story”. And the ‘better story’ I was asked to present was on happiness. It was encouraging to hear that there were quite a few visitors present from outside the church too.
The idea of the message was to unpack the different ways in which we look for happiness. At a basic level we look for it in food and sex, but that is transitory – because no matter how good the experience, it comes to an end. Moving ‘up’ from those instinctive drives, some people then look for happiness in achievement perhaps at work, the sports field or academia. However the same problem arises here, the happiness gained there comes to an end. Moving even further up, people can gain some sense of happiness from serving others –perhaps being a parent and pouring energy and commitment into someone else’s wellbeing. And that’s all good – but once again comes to an end. Kids eventually leave home and no longer depend on you, and others we serve can outgrow their dependence on us. The essential problem with all these sources of happiness is that they all eventually, in one way or another, come to an end. When people make food, sex, pleasure, achievement or service the centre of their lives they will always be let down because we need something higher than those things to be the ultimate source of happiness. Now of course that leads into the gospel of Christ – and the story of our fractured relationship with a God who loves us and his son who came to redeem us because of his great love for us.
That’s a topic I have spoken about regularly with audiences of non-Christian people- because “How can I find real happiness?” is a question that a lot of people are asking today, not least because Covid has swept away so many of the things people had assumed were certainties. Many people have had things such as assumed job security threatened along with foreign travel, much of their social lives – and so much of what makes us happy.
The second invitation to speak at Carrubbers came because their pastoral assistant who was due to preach at their annual carol service was diagnosed with Covid the day before! So our great friend, and Solas associate David Nixon (who is also Associate Pastor at Carrubbers) phoned and asked if I happened to be available to deputise at short notice. Thankfully I was, and so a second trip to Edinburgh was hastily planned.
I spoke on “Is there something more this Christmas?” – asking if there is more to Christmas than the usual rounds of parties, food and fun. It all comes together around Matthew 1:23, which says “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). That tiny verse opens up the answers to the four key questions, “What is God like?”, “Where is God in all the suffering?”, “What’s gone wrong with the world?” and “What’s the solution?” (see more on these questions in my book). The Christmas message is that God is seen in Jesus, he’s here with us, that we are broken and sinful – but that Christ came to redeem us! The irony is that while at Christmas we often get deluged with gifts we don’t need; God has actually sent us a gift that meets our deepest needs – his own son, our saviour Jesus.
I closed with the words of my favourite Christmas carol – the final verse, of O Little Town of Bethlehem, which says:
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
So- changing the “our” to “my” I invited people to pray those words with me. The church did a wonderful job with the music and the whole service. So it was a real privilege to preach the gospel in that setting with our friends at Carrubbers. We’re looking forward to doing a Confident Christianity conference with them later this year too!
The whole service can be seen here: https://youtu.be/GmciIzXll_s