Sermon for Christmas Midnight Mass 2016
24th Dec 2016
Sermon for Midnight Mass 2016
“In Him was life, and the life was the light of all people”. John 1.4
Now is the time (midnight) and this is the place (our church and countless others) where the sign once promised to the shepherds is being given to us once more. In churches around the world this midnight hour is significant for being an hour of deep darkness, and this is surely a strange time to come to church! But tonight we are walking from darkness, led like the shepherds by a guiding star, to the place where Jesus is born. And in that place, we will witness a far greater light, the one which our Gospel tells us ‘…is coming into the world’. There we will witness the birth of Jesus who is our ‘Emmanuel’, a name which means ‘God is with us’. This is not a God who is lost in time but the God who lies at the very heart or ‘now’ of our existence, and with the ‘hopes and fears of all our years’. Jesus comes to us tonight to be with us as we are and to be with our world just as it is. Within and in the world’s own willful ignorance and indifference, Jesus come to remind us that we are loved and cherished by a God who has made us and who will never desert us. He is with us in a way which surpasses anything we can possess or command.
In the past week I met two apparently contradictory witnesses to the presence and absence of God in all the Christmas rush. The first came from a young man in the street who ran up to me and shouted ‘Vicar, do you know any Latin?’ I said ‘Yes’, shamefacedly remembering the little bit of Latin I did at school. He then held out the inside of his wrist and showed me a tattoo inscribes with the Latin words:
Nihil Sine Deo Ego Sum
(‘Without God I am nothing’)
I was struck by the pride this young man took in the choice of these Latin words, and we both realized then and there that they were profound words, whose meaning was both manifestly clear and yet also very awesome, too. The words had been indelibly written upon his body and a constant reminder of who God is and who we are. To say the word ‘Emmanuel’ or ‘God is with us’ to remind ourselves that our bare existences find no meaning or purpose except in Him, for our lives find their true joy in being renewed and remade in His image. Last Thursday I found myself in a crowded lift in House of Frazer, Oxford Street. One young husband was carrying a large and very big carrier bag with the brand name ‘Louis Vuitton’ written on it, his wife similarly loaded down with expensive looking carrier bags. He says to her ‘How are you feeling, love?” She says “Just tired”. Then she says to him “And how are you feeling” And he says “Well, to be honest, totally skint”.
How far or near to Bethelem is the life of the tired shoppers in the lift at House of Frazer or in the joy of the young man who has shown the Vicar that Latin inscription, ‘Without God I am nothing’? Both become true witnesses of what Christmas is all about in this church and countless others tonight. That God has come to live with us, to make his home with us, to be our light, our life and our joy, wherever and however we may find ourselves. We are being called to open not just our minds and our senses but our very hearts to what God is gifting to us in this child Jesus. As one old Advent hymn has it,
Join then all hearts that are not stone,
And all our voices prove
To celebrate this holy One,
The God of peace and love.
From the hymn 'Behold the Great Creator Makes Himself a House of Clay' New English Hymnal 23.
“The dear Christ enters in” on our own worlds just as he entered into the Bethlehem of 2,000 years ago. Ever since then, ‘the stars in the bright sky’ have looked down on us and on our world. And then, as now, the Christ, Emmanuel, God-with-Us, comes to us and abides with us. He abides even in the midst of this world’s and our world’s own brokenness and pain, uncertainly and defensiveness as much he does when we feel our guiding stars shine brightly.
The Church across the world tonight stops and stays at the scene of nativity. It stops in ‘solemn stillness’, and it offers this time, in the dark and in the middle of Winter, to remind itself of the gift of Jesus Christ and of the Giver who is the the all-providing, the providential God, the One who is now always and everywhere present for us. The gift we bring tonight is ourselves and our lives, to be made new in the One who is giving us a part of His very self; his beloved child Jesus.
At the end of this Mass we will wend our way to the crib scene and we will bless it with holy water and incense. We will gaze upon the figures there as we have done before, many of us as children. We will gaze in adoration as the shepherds did before us, in awe and wonder. For set before us is God’s light breaking into the darkness of this night and breaking into a world to transform it into the likeness of His love.
May the love of God be with you on this blessed and holy night now and in the time to come…May God bring you his deep joy and peace as no other possibly can. Amen.