Midnight service 25 December 2018
Revd Caroline Risdon
Heavenly Father, may your Word be our rule, your Spirit our teacher and your glory our chief concern. AMEN.
Over the past few weeks, I’m sure many of you have attended school nativity plays. The story always begins with the angel speaking to Mary. We join Mary and Joseph as they travel by donkey to Bethlehem where the baby is born in a stable. We see the shepherds and few sheep tumble in and then the story ends with the arrival of wise men bearing gifts. And that’s it - Christmas sorted for another year.
John’s Gospel, however, has nothing of this earthy human story. The story of God becoming man and dwelling on earth is told on a cosmic and universal scale. And I really appreciate this broad perspective because it allows us to understand the Nativity story as part of the whole story.
Christmas is obviously central to the Christian understanding of life. We take the name of our religion from the person of Jesus Christ. But that is not the origin of God’s relationship with us. In the Gospel reading, John tells us exactly when God’s story starts... ‘In the beginning.’ ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being.’
And I wanted to return to the creation story to highlight three gifts I hope we each experience this Christmas.
1) The first gift of creation is that God created the earth, the sea and the sky and all that fills them
Sometimes the gifts we have in front of us are so big, or so everyday, that we cease to be aware of them. We seem to have collectively forgotten how precious and complex and fragile the world is - for we have caused great harm to the earth, the seas and the skies.
We also take for granted our safe accommodation; warm clothing for winter; adequate food; safe and clean water; and even the basic liberty to meet like this to celebrate the birth of Christ in a Church. It’s 2018 and these gifts are not available to our brothers and sisters across the world.
2) The second gift of creation is God breathed life into humans
When I took a school Christmas service recently I learnt that the sign for Christ is this - placing your middle finger into the palm of your facing hand and repeating the gesture on the other hand. We sometimes get so caught up in our celebrations of Christmas, or in the frenetic rush and stress of Christmas, that we think of it as an end point. Isn’t it interesting then, that the sign for Christ has nothing to do with the baby in the manger but with the fulfilment of Jesus’s ministry in his death on the Cross. This shows I think that there is always more to the story of God’s relationship with us and God’s love and care for us.
Jesus’ death shows that not even death can separate us from the love of God. We know that difficult and horrible life experiences happen; they happen when you believe in God. But believing in God can bring hope and meaning to our experiences. We are not alone - God is with us. This is the meaning of the word Emmanuel- God with us- in the form of the baby Jesus and the adult Jesus who gives his life knowingly and without hesitation.
But the story remains unfinished. While there are still people in the world who are suffering and who do not have access to the gifts we misuse and take for granted; there is work to be done. And we are part of that work.
At the Christingle service everyone is given their own orange with a glow stick in it. So when they leave Church, they carry that light out into the darkness. What a perfect image of the spreading of light - that we who know and love Jesus are filled with his light and we take this light out into the world. Not to be perfect but to be real people living meaningful lives in a frantic and uncertain and often root-less world.
3) The third gift of creation is that God rested
Now this is a gift that is ignored repeatedly and we are in great danger if we continue to avoid it. There used to be a time when shops were closed on Sunday; when almost everyone would have a day of rest because their work place was closed; when the pace of life was less frenetic.
But we seem to live in a society that ignores the need for rest, for refreshment; for relaxation; for recuperation. We live with permanent stress and a pace of life which hurtles us towards burn out and illness. The statistics for the increase in physical and mental health illness speak for themselves.
Taking time to be still is not only about rest though; it is about reconnection. Repeatedly in the Gospel stories, Jesus stops and withdraws from the crowd. It is in these periods of calm and prayer that Jesus is able to discern God’s will for his life. It is the same for us. God is with us day by day through the work and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But unless we stop and listen, we drown out that still small voice of calm.
So these are the gifts I hope we will each enjoy:
-that this Christmas we may be filled with awe and wonder at the gloriousness of creation and a determination to preserve and care for it.
-that we may know true gratitude for the people nearest and dearest to us and will strive to uphold the full humanity of all people;
-and that we may make time to stop and rest; not ‘merely’ to nourish our souls and our bodies but to allow ourselves the space to connect with God.
These gifts are part of our ordinary and everyday lives. But leading lives filled with awe and thankfulness and connection are ways in which the love of God breaks into the world. And that is the cosmic event we celebrate tonight - Emmanuel- God with us.