Sermon for Midnight Mass and blessing of the crib Monday 24 December 2018
Sermon preached by the Vicar, Fr Alan Moses
Readings: Isaiah 9.1-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-14
“Christmas is calling,” say the lights above Oxford Circus – calling us – I suspect – to shop – calling us to save our imperilled high streets. When I returned from visiting my mother in the North East yesterday afternoon, crowds of people were still answering this call, thronging the streets and queuing with more or less patience in the shops before heading home laden with purchases.
But now the shops are closed and the crowds have dispersed– at least for 24 hours – but the lights of Christmas are still calling – and we have gathered, not to shop – but to hear the message of the angels.
Christmas is calling us, as the angels summoned the shepherds, to hear the news of the Saviour’s birth. In words many of us have heard at carol services, we are being called: “in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem, to see this thing which has come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger;” to hear the “tale of the loving purposes of God…and the glorious Redemption brought us by this holy Child; and to make this place glad with our carols of praise.”
Christmas is calling us, but not to the splendid palaces of Caesar Augustus or Herod the Great; men far more widely known because of their appearance in the story of this child than they would have been otherwise. It does not call us to bow down before their worldly authority and power; an authority exercised with callous indifference to the wishes of their subjects, a power exercised with ruthless cruelty when occasion seemed to demand it.
Instead it leads us to a small town of no account in the world; unknown except to a rather troublesome subject people who stubbornly follow their odd religion, who knew it as “royal David’s city,” and dreamed of a new David, one who would free them from Caesar and Herod. Even when we get there we find we have been directed to an outhouse where a couple from another no-account town, have found a place for the young woman to give birth to her child.
Christmas is calling us to see in this child laid in a manger bed, nursed at a maiden’s breast, wrapped in swaddling bands, dependent, helpless, bereft of this world’s power, the one whom the angels tell us is the Saviour of the world.
Here, the Gospel says – and thirty or so years later on a cross outside the city walls, – and in the years between, a short ministry of teaching and healing, of welcoming the outcast and forgiving the sinner, and the hidden years in Nazareth which prepared for it, we see the one who is the source and end of all creation. Here is the one who reveals the meaning and purpose of our world and of our lives, as love.
In an age of arrogant and strident voices, of oft-repeated lies which feed ancient hatreds and new fears; of love only for ourselves and those like us, Christmas is calling us all, great or small, the powerful and the powerless, and all of us somewhere in between, to kneel at the manger throne.
Christmas is calling us to find our better and truer selves in him: to find true greatness in his humility; to find true love in that which reaches out to all without distinction. Christmas is calling us to celebrate that love which makes us all God’s children and which shows us what it is to be truly human; made in the image and likeness of the God whose power is the attraction of love rather than the compulsion of force.
Christmas is calling us not just to hear that message, and nod approvingly, and wish wistfully that it were so, that things really could be like that, that the world was a happier place, without wars and refugees, poverty and homelessness, abuse and cruelty, discrimination and prejudice. It is calling us to become a part of that message and of making it a reality in our world.
The Word becomes flesh, becomes one with us, shares our life and our death, our joys and our sorrows, that we might become one with him, share his life. We are called as individuals and as a community to live that message of love and peace, of humility and service, that model of what it is to be truly human. We are to become nothing less that the extension of the incarnation; other Christs.
And so, Christmas is calling us to be his disciples.
That has two aspects, inward and outward. The inward is to be found in the daily deepening of our relationship with Jesus through worship and prayer. It is calling us not just to the manger at Christmas but throughout the year to the altar where we receive his body so that we might become what we receive.
This inward bears fruit in the outward: our doing what Jesus himself did, in our homes and parishes, our communities and workplaces, and beyond in the wider world; in our recognizing of him in those whom he has made his and our brothers and sisters.
As St. Teresa of Avila says:
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.”
This does not mean the person next to you or in front of you, but you. There are times and situations when you are the only person who can be Christ’s body, hands, feet and eyes there and then.