Sermon for Christmas Eve High Mass Saturday 24 December 2016
Sermon preached by Fr Alan Moses, Vicar
MIDNIGHT MASS OF CHRISTMAS, 2016
“Unto us a child is born, unto us son is given.”
Last weekend, we had a family get-together – an anticipation of Christmas before our grand-daughter – aged two and a bit – flew off with her parents to Gibraltar to spend Christmas with her other grandparents. This was the first time she had stayed overnight at what she calls the “Vicage” and was so excited that she could not get to sleep – so when I went off to bed, she was sitting up next to her grandmother – wide awake and watching one of those dark Scandinavian whodunnits on BBC 4.
The next day, we were joined by two great nieces from Wales – Maggie aged 4 and Norah, only four months – and their supporting entourage. In between feeding and sleeping, Norah, as the most recent arrival. was the centre of attention; effortlessly upstaging her cousins.
All this was fresh in my mind when I watched a video of the Presiding Bishop of the American Episcopal Church delivering his Christmas Message.
He began with those words from Isaiah: words which the Church has seen as being fulfilled in the birth of Christ; words which we hear at Midnight Mass every year: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given.”
Bishop Michael Currie recalled the impact which the birth of their first child had on him and his wife: how this tiny infant took control of their life
– as babies are wont to do. No longer could they simply do what they wanted, go where they liked, when they wanted: go out for a meal or a movie. The baby came first. This child had changed their lives forever. Children do that to us. And that change is about far more than our daily routine. It affects our inmost selves.
The arrival of the infant Jesus transformed the lives of Mary and Joseph radically. It came with a cost they could not have imagined. For them, life would never be the same again. From a quiet and settled life in Nazareth, they would find themselves plunged into the greatest story ever told; a story which for his mother, would lead all the way to the cross.
The responsibility that goes with parenthood, to care for and nurture, to educate and form another human being, as Mary and Joseph did with Jesus, challenging, demanding and sometimes exhausting though it might be, forms us too and those of us who have experienced it have known ourselves to be the better for it.
Tonight we celebrate the birth of a child not just to the Holy Family but to the whole human family; who came not just to change the lives of Mary and Joseph, or of the shepherds and Wise Men, or of those whose lives he touched in his ministry on earth. This child came to transform our lives; to open our hearts to God and to each other. This child came to make us all the holy family; to make us his brothers and sisters.
Mrs. Alexander’s hymn, “Once in Royal David’s city,” which many of us will have sung or heard at a carol service, includes the words, “For he is out childhood’s pattern.” She wrote it for children but we are all children of God, and Jesus teaches us that we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless we become as a little child. The child of Bethlehem is the one whose life and death shows us the pattern of what it is to be truly human.
At one point last Sunday, young Maggie took herself off to my study. When my wife went to check that she was okay, she replied:
“This is the quiet room. Those grown-ups next door are so noisy.”
“Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings…”
The world of Oxford Street is as noisy and crowded as the streets of Bethlehem at census time. But for a brief, all-too-brief, space, the busy world is hushed. In this silent and holy night, and in the days to come, let’s all try to follow Maggie’s example and find in this mass, a quiet place and time: to put this child at the centre of our lives; to kneel before his Crib and his altar throne; to offer him our gifts and our hearts, our very selves that we might be changed; and not only us but those who we bring to him in our hearts; those whom God has entrusted to our care: not just our children, but our families old and young, the neighbours in our street, the folk we work with; our community, our city, even our country.
It has been a year of dark deeds and hate-filled words, so let’s resolve anew to be that “people… zealous for good deeds,” this child came to form. Let’s resolve afresh to put his life at the centre of our lives; to learn from all his life, from Bethlehem to Calvary, from Crib to Cross, from stable to upper room and empty tomb, that life of self-giving love which both reveals what it is to be truly human and makes it possible.