Thursday, 24 December 2009

Sermon for Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass
Christmas 2009; St Mary Magdalen, Twyning.

“In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

+ May I speak and may you hear in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

The opening paragraphs of St John’s gospel give us a powerful description of the God of creation. It is, in fact, a declaration of the Christian understanding of God. Some time ago I was given a small reproduction of a Byzantine Icon which shows Mary supporting an adult Christ who holds a scroll. The arrangement of Mary’s hands points to Christ and the scroll – this is Mary the Theotokos, the God Bearer and Christ is depicted as the Living Word in her arms.

This is the significance of the babe whose birth we celebrate tonight and tomorrow and for the next twelve days. This is how the Word became flesh – the only way that even God could assume human form and flesh – to be born and to grow as we do into adulthood.

Isaiah foretells this in the prophecy we have just heard –

“The Lord will lay bare His holy arm in the sight of all the nations.”
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews is quoting Isaiah when he writes –

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

Our crib shows us the human face of the Christmas story, our Gospel tells us the mystery that underlies it. And here the two most important aspects of this wonderful event meet in a very graphic sense for in becoming human, God has impoverished himself in the spiritual sense. From being the Word spoken at the beginning and to be spoken at the end of all things and all time, he adopted human form at a particular time and place in order to reach out to all mankind and draw us nearer to Himself.

We look and see a stable, hardly a place in which a King who transcends all earthly things and powers would choose to be born, yet that too has its place, for in a crowded Caravanseri there would be no privacy in which the birth could take place. Only in the stable could Mary deliver her child in quiet and without attracting the perhaps unwelcome attention of the other guests.

Today is the celebration of Mary’s delivery of her child, the living Word of God, the Word that was present at the beginning. There is a long road ahead of her now for she must nurture this child and bring him to adulthood so that He may fulfil the destiny He has ordained for himself. But now, on this night, delivered of her baby she may rest, safe and warm in the stall among the animals, her husband Joseph keeping watch over her.

Luke, who’s Gospel gives us a detailed description of the birth and is probably Mary’s own account, tells us that shepherds visited the stable to worship after being told of the birth by angels. Matthew also gives us this witness account and we may be sure that it did not go unnoticed or unmarked.

Of this we may be sure. The birth occurring in a stable in a caravanseri instead of in the home of Joseph’s relatives probably not far distant from the stable, is a part of God’s plan. The babe is recognised by the shepherds as being special and is recognised later by the magi – but passes unnoticed by the rich and powerful.

As John tells us –
“He came to that which was his own and his own did not receive him.”
How do we respond to the Babe? Do we come to celebrate his birth simply because it’s a nice story and it’s what we do at Christmas? Or do we come because we, like the shepherds and the magi, recognise in this infant something greater, something awesome and so wonderful it must be told to everyone?

As we celebrate the birth of this child some two thousand years ago we should be struck by the wonder of what that child is. I cannot do better than St John when he writes –
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory, the glory of the one and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

1 comment:

  1. Have a Happy and Holy Christmas. Blessings on you and your family and friends.