Sermon for the Midnight Mass of Christmas
Posted on the 24th Dec 2019 in the category Sermons
Midnight Mass Sermon 2019
This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
At this Midnight hour, we join churches from across the world to make our own journey ‘to see what things have come to pass’. Of course we know what to expect, but even so, the the coming of the Christ Child to catches us by surprise. It fair takes our breath away. For in the simple story of the journey of Mary and Joseph in the stable at Bethlehem the Church declares that this is for all time how God wants it to be – that the gift to the world of his Son Jesus Christ is being given in this very particular way. Mary and Joseph are a poor couple making a mundane journey for a mundane reason – to register their names or tax purposes! They are an unlikely couple slightly lost and unprepared for the birth of their child. But by these unlikely means God’s glory is being revealed.
For this is no ordinary couple and these are no ordinary circumstances. Mary and Joseph have both received their calling from God. They have both said ‘Yes’ to God. In turn, the birth of their child will remain for ever the precise moment of divine disclosure. God means to show himself to the world through them and through their willing agreement. God is to become human in their little baby, Jesus. How awesome is that! This grand purpose is summed up in the carol which confidently declares that the baby Jesus “…came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all”. The dramatic nature of this declaration is contrasted with the very basic human circumstances into which the Saviour is born and the stable with the hot, sweet, grassy, breath of the cattle and the sheep, the smell of dung and animal urine and the drafts of cold air coming in through the rafters. God meant it to be this way. All that God does is intentional. As one old hymn puts it, God has ‘…stooped down to Man’s estate.’ He has become one with us and like us.
Yesterday afternoon I received a surprise Christmas call from my Cornish cousin. I spoke to her of our local school visits to the crib scene here at Holy Cross and of how, to gain the children’s concentration, I referred to the stable as both very warm and also very smelly. The children observed that even though smelly the stable was a warm and good place and they wouldn’t mind sleeping there, though preferably alongside the sheep rather than the oxe. This suddenly brought on a childhood memory of my cousin’s in which she remembered her aunt Mary, a farmer’s wife, gift her each Christmas an old sealed container containing a neat and highly noxious cow pat to be given promptly to her mother to feed her rose bushes. She said to me “The smell still lingers!”
“He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all… “
In experiencing the Christmas nativity we come to know God in three ways:
The first way lies in the God who loves the world he made. He comes to earth as one who loves all of it! For us, loving the Creator God and loving our planet earth are two interrelated and inseparable responses…It is right that there has been an ever increasing emphasis upon our responsibility for the planet, which must present itself more consciously and determinedly in our daily lives. This way is the one which engages us spiritually as it brings us closer to the Creator.
The second way lies in the God whose love is always a giving and a sharing love. It is as givers and sharers that we are able to find life and give life. The Birth of Jesus is God’s gift to us in this child is also God’s message to the planet. The love for the planet is but an expression of the love which God calls us to have for one another this Christmas. The two are interrelated and co-dependent. The stable at Bethlehem is become the means through which the world is to be reconciled to itself. Christmas invites countless expressions of both routine and exceptional kindness and each year the feast prompts many to show it! The spontaneous dedication of Christmas volunteers is a part of this stream, expressing the kind of practical love which makes such a difference to our society.
The third way lies in the God who trusts in human agency and who calls us to play our own part in the divine plan. Like Mary and Joseph we are reminded of God’s calling. In this church last October, some three and a half thousand people came to see Luke Jeram’s giant moon installation and it was a time of great joy and wonder as we were able to offer a welcome and inclusion to many people from the Moslem community who would otherwise have placed themselves firmly outside our orbit. In the past few days, builders have been busy transforming our downstairs crypt in the hope that in the coming year we may offer more space and welcome in the service of our local community. We are as a community church more conscious than ever of our calling to make this church a place where daily acts of kindness and hospitality bind us ever more closely to those we are called to serve.
The Christian message is the one which would have us love our world as God loves it, to love God in one another and to realise our fullest humanity in the God who calls. We are come to behold the things which have come to pass – to delight and rejoice in them and to act upon them. May God grant us all peace in your inmost hearts this Christmas, and may he bless us as we hold in our arms this child Jesus ‘the hopes and fears of all our years”, now and in the time to come…
Only one piece of final Christmas advice - be careful before you open the oddly scented Christmas parcel from the Cornish Auntie!