Sermon Midnight Mass 2016
One thing that unites all of us here tonight; is that we have all cried.
Tears can burst upon us- When we experience, personally, moments of great sadness, or witness scenes of horror and injustice from afar; or indeed when we hear a heart-breaking song.
Even if you are particularly stiff-upper lipped you will have cried at least once.
For we all cry within seconds of being born.
We have to get air into our lungs to start re-configuring our bodies for existence outside the womb, and we need our mother’s immediate attention, because from the very beginning our lives depend upon her.
We cry therefore we are.
There is no mention of Jesus crying in the Gospel passages that allude to his birth, and the children’s carol, ‘Away in a manger,’ paints the highly improbable scenario of the infant Christ waking up and making not a sound, ‘no crying he makes;’- a model for how Victorians thought children should behave.
But there is no doubt that like the rest of us Christ entered the world with a cry.
It is worth remembering that when hearing the grand and abstract way that St John puts it in the prologue to his Gospel; that I read just now.
‘ And the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory.’
Christmas is the time when we celebrate both the beginning and the magnitude of that event.
God entering decisively into the world he created through a human life.
It all begins in Bethlehem; but it certainly doesn’t end there.
Christmas happens near the beginning of the church year- the rest of the year we reflect upon what happened afterwards, and its continuing significance for us and God’s world.
When St John really gets going with his Gospel he fills it with details- of parties and conversations, of conflicts and life changing moments- of Jesus, confronting, challenging and loving.
But St John begins with great images.
Another evocative one being Christ as the light of the world, which is another way of expressing the notion that Christ flashes out the glory of God into the world.
‘ the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it… The true light which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.’
Try to imagine a real fire.
Of coal or wood.
The glowing embers provide some warmth and a little glow of light. Add more fuel, and the watch the flames burst upwards, and see the light cast across the room and feel the warmth upon your skin.
I can’t help but think that the light St John had in mind was fire light- providing illumination and warmth; – rather than the beautiful but cold light of stars.
A source of light which can be felt, and can be comforting, but also can burn.
St John made some philosophical claims in poetic language at the beginning of his Gospel.
That the God who creates, sustains, but transcends the world, is also capable of entering into the messiness of its materiality- something very much doubted by many of his sophisticated contemporaries, and by billions today.
And that Christ had always at work- other philosophical schools and religions were taken by St John to contain at least glimpses of truth and wisdom- they weren’t all wrong in his eyes.
But his over-riding conviction was that in Christ God has become not only visible, but present; fully involved in human life.
From the first tears to the last.
Something smouldering and precarious had burst into flames in the world; transforming the entire landscape.
The invisible had become visible and has in some sense driven back the darkness. Not through a text or a manifesto but through a person.
It is the grown up Christ who according to St John, drew in the sand and forgave when a mob wanted to exact summary justice against a vulnerable woman,
and who took a towel and washed the feet of his disciples as a sign of the immeasurable value of service,
and who stood face to face with a Roman Governor who had a slippery concept of truth,
and who on every occasion that he performed a breath-taking act, described as a sign, but often since termed a miracle, brought new life, spiritual refreshment, and hope; from a God of exuberant passion for all that he had made.
That is the message of Christmas. All of us who cry alone or together are precious to God; who loves all of his creation; which he loves from the inside as well as the outside.
His fire always flings back the darkness.