Sermon for Choral Evensong & Benediction Sunday 3 January 2016
Sermon preached by Fr Julian Browning
1 John 4: 8
He who loves is born of God and knows God.
I know it’s the same date every year, but it does take time to understand what Christmas means. Has it sunk in yet? The way we usually look at it, Christmas is the finishing line of Advent. What we’ve been waiting for comes true. But Christmas is the beginning of a season, not the end of one. The mystery unfolds. At Christmas the eternal Word becomes flesh, but it takes time to celebrate and absorb what this event contains. So we talk about the Christmas – Epiphany Mystery. It is as if the treasures of faith, the Christmas presents, take time to unwrap. Christmas begins a feast by telling us the story of the Son of God being born as a human being. So God comes into our lives. But there’s more. Christ is to be shown to the Gentiles, to all people, to you and to me, and we begin to see Him as totally involved in the human adventure, so committed, that you and I have no choice but to move into His life. We have divine life, and the divine life is on our side against the darkness which sweeps in all too often. The Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. We shall bring gold, the symbol of his kingship. We shall bring frankincense, incense, in recognition of his divinity. We shall bring myrrh, which was used for embalming, as a symbol of his Passion. Do you see what is happening, what is changing? First God comes into our life; now we prepare to enter His life. The Christmas – Epiphany mystery is wonderful; the principal purpose of all our liturgy, our prayers, our ritual, to bring us to the awareness of God’s interior presence and union with us.
Awareness of God is a great gift to us, but it’s not easy to live up to it. We’re up against reality, what we’re really like. The divine light is always being challenged by the repressive and regressive forces within us as individuals and within society. So on Monday we celebrated, if that’s the word, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, when Herod set out to have the new born king killed off. Herod is horrid, but he is real. Herod didn’t want change. Didn’t like feeling threatened. The wise men hinted at change when they talked about this new star and asked Herod the fatal question, ‘Where is he that is born King of the Jews?’ The very last thing Herod wanted was the appearance of the Messiah, the long-awaited King of the Jews. So for Herod, the star was bad news. And so he was ready to kill. The appearance of that star, and the birth of the Christ child, made a bad man worse.
It’s fear that can make us like that. God casts out our fear. Perfect love casts out fear. At every turn in our lives we are presented with choices, forks in the road. We can look up at the star and think like Herod: I don’t want that child in my life, he’s a rival, a challenge to my conceit, a judgement on my life, and he wants me to change. So I shall snuff him out, whatever it costs in terms of human life and happiness. Or we can go forward in faith like the wise men, secure in our prophecies, willing to worship and ready to offer ourselves, whatever I can give, poor as I am. They followed a star, the promise of the Truth, they looked for their salvation beyond themselves, they knew that they were being beckoned, guided, towards a place of great joy. They gave gold, frankincense and myrrh. What can we give?
Truth in its beauty and love in its tenderness,
These are the offerings to lay on his shrine.
I celebrated this morning at the Epiphany High Mass at St Augustine’s, Kilburn. At the end of the service I blessed some chalk, ordinary classroom chalk. It’s an old Christian Epiphany tradition to bless chalk which you then use to bless your home on its doorway, using the names of the three Kings who visited the Holy Family, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Now you might not want to mess around with chalk above the electronic gates of your four storied town house, and it doesn’t matter at all whether you do it or not; the significance of this Epiphany tradition is in our awareness of God. When Christ is born in Bethlehem, he isn’t just providing a spiritual boost to our personal journey in religion. Christ comes home with us. Christ is in what happens at home. We know anyway that a newborn child blesses a house, changes how we live. So may Christ bless your home, your family, your friendships, all that you do.