Sermon for Christmas Eve – Midnight Mass at 11pm Tuesday 24 December 2019
Sermon preached by Fr Michael Bowie
Christmas is very simple, but there’s also a subtle richness about it. Simple, the birth of a child, but subtle, the quiet birth of the Son of God. Simple, a family created by the birth of a child, but this child with a unique and subtle life, who will be killed for telling the truth, will rise from the dead and freely give all of us the potential to be gathered to God. Simple but subtly rich: God’s seamless entering into human life, without overpowering our humanity. No forceful divine takeover; a respectful and nuanced inhabiting of our life in creation.
That is the subtlety of the angel’s message in all the tellings of Jesus’ birth, a message which always begins ‘do not be afraid’. Some of you have heard me say before that ‘do not be afraid’ is the most frequent command in Bible. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find it in the announcement of the simple event of Jesus’ birth, or in the subtle consequences of that new human life, entirely inhabited by God.
Tonight we celebrate the simplicity at the heart of that message, and I hope we also heed the angelic command, ‘do not be afraid’. Fear, admittedly sometimes rational, can also, very often, be a crippling, dehumanising engine of passivity, undermining dignified, trusting and respectful relationships. But the simplicity of what we celebrate tonight can, if we let it, unwrap a gift: the human and divine subtlety which those dignified, trusting and respectful relationships express and embody.
The Gospel, the Good News preached and enacted by Jesus, is about making humanity into a new sort of family. That’s why he taught us to pray to God as ‘our Father’; and why he said that any of us who trust him are brothers and sisters, gifted with relationships which transcend blood-ties but are yet unearned.
The Gospel, and this birth we celebrate tonight, are not about an institution or a rule book; they are about nurturing those dignified, trusting and respectful relationships which are personal, local, and particular, relationships which are freely given and accepted.
Those things come first. That is what Jesus meant when he taught in parables, like that of the sower or the mustard seed, about the kingdom of God bursting irrevocably out of the small and particular: a relational humanity that enacts, in the smallest encounters, the creative power of God, which is love.
Love is simple, but also subtle. Tonight we celebrate how it happens. When we leave I hope we take it with us and remember a little more of how to be ourselves, our true related selves, unafraid, because we know we are loved.
As a priest reminded us here a couple of weeks ago, the Gospel is this: nothing you do can make God love you more, and nothing you do can make God love you less.
Because the Christ Child is Emmanuel, ‘God with us’, we are truly, and inescapably, family, with God.