‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect’
Romans 12:2

At Christmas we Christians are the party animals. We do Advent, full of expectant waiting and then when Christmas comes we sing our carols with hearty voices.

And yet to many we do seem strange indeed, for we don’t conform to this world that has moved onto Easter already (eggs are in the shops – I saw Hot Cross Buns and Mince Pies side by side in the co-op) consequently, we or at least me, we can seem really miserable.

I shall not forget the look of incredulity as I turned up at B and Q on the 23rd of December hoping to find a cut price tree only to find that they had sold them all off the day before for a pound a tree.

The shop assistant said to me “what would you want a Christmas tree now for, mines been up for ages.” I just went aha and left it at that.

I have determinedly not been conformed to this world which celebrates Christmas earlier and earlier but sometimes I end up feeling a right humbug.

I suppose in some way it is a reminder that being a follower of Jesus Christ is in some way about seeing things differently.

Of course Jesus didn’t invent Advent, the Church did, but you get the connection with our reading from St. Paul about not being conformed to this world.

Yet we are of this world, we live here and it is a blessed life.

There are some Christians who, joking aside, would want to look around at us and be pretty miserable about everything, they sort of revel in it, you can usually spot the from their tortured look.

One gentleman I used to go and visit, a lovely man in lots of ways in his old age often repeated the phrase “it’s a wicked wicked world” whilst shaking his head.

Whilst I knew what he meant, it did seem such a sad way in which to see this world. There are lots of wicked things that happen but there are also lots of amazing things that happen too.

It may say something about me but I am reluctant to see things solely in black and white, things are seldom like that.

It seems to me that if we do that, we take the easy option and in some way deny our God given minds to think and discern the hand of God at work in his world here and now then we end up discerning nothing at all, because we’d rather do what we are told.

For me not being conformed to this world, is striving (not always succeeding) to see things as I think God sees them, to look upon the world and each other with eyes of love.

Deep down I hope God sees the world as he looks upon me, with gentleness, compassion and mercy not forgetting my sin, but loving me through it.

I hope too that God sees me and the world as being full of potential, patiently awaiting its and our transformation through love.

Not ‘conforming to this world’ isn’t about rules, do’s and don’ts like when we put our decorations up but about not adopting that hardness of heart that seems far too often to prevail, a hardness of heart that grasps and is always defensive, that hoards, judges and puts up barriers.

The Incarnation of the son of God that we celebrate at Christmas is after all about Christ coming to us, breaking through our barriers and inviting us to see things differently, in our lives and in the world around us.

This requires of us a kind of holy inquisitiveness which helps renew and transform our minds. These imperfect and declining grey cells are such a precious gift, each of our minds is different and we are to use them.

For example just think of how each one of you will listen to this sermon (hopefully). You’ll hear the same words but will have heard something different (usually not what I think you will hear).

Yet we all listen (or in my case think and write) with the desire to be as St Paul put it to ‘be transformed by the renewal of (y)our minds.

Following the Christ who comes is all about transformation, and in the ongoing transformation of the world in which we live.

These words of St. Paul are memorable to me because they speak of how we are to make the most of who God has made us to be, discerning his will with expectation and joy, prepared to be surprised and challenged and changed.

So if we ever hear of someone discerning the will of God by quoting chapter and verse then something has gone wrong and it’s a tragedy, diminishing the divine to rules and regulations.

Instead we should expect that discernment to be really about that creative and imaginative synthesis that happens as we open our hearts to the God who comes and we are open to the possibility of his transforming love.

Along the way of course we sometimes stumble and fall but Christ comes again, picks us up and sets us on our way again.

So when I buy my Christmas Tree though I might piously think otherwise, it isn’t really that significant in determining whether or not I am conformed to this age, rather what matters is the depth of love in my heart, the openness of my mind and the desire to be continually transformed.

Epiphany comes on Tuesday, when we celebrate the wise men, men transformed have followed the star bring their gifts to the infant king, perhaps between now and then we can think afresh of what we want to lay at his feet.

‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect’
Romans 12:2