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Sermon for Midnight Mass


Isa 52:7-10, Heb 1:1-4, John 1:1-14 

Our household are big Harry Potter fans. We’ve read the books - some of us many times over, and we’ve seen the films. Boy have we seen the films.

And there’s a scene in the third book when the young witches and wizards are introduced to Boggarts. A Boggart is a magical creature which takes on the shape of your worst nightmare - the thing you are most scared of. So if you’re scared of spiders, then the Boggart appears as a huge spider in front of you, with dribbling fangs and long hairy legs. Or if there was a teacher at school who, even now years later, can wake you up in a cold sweat, then the Boggart becomes that teacher at their most appallingly terrifying.

But there’s a way to deal with a Boggart, you’ll be glad to hear. What you need to do is to picture the thing that you fear in a different context. So you imagine the huge spider that’s bearing down on you with roller skates on its feet, slithering and sliding along the floor. And that awful teacher, you might imagine her with a tea cosy on her head, and rollers in her hair, or in some kind of fancy dress, or in a tutu - whatever it takes to remove anything challenging.

I wonder if we’ve done something a bit like that to Christmas. Have we so reimagined the whole story that we risk losing the challenge of what actually happened? Have we told it so bundled up in sweet animals and lovely angels fluttering around the skies, that we’ve domesticated the power of what really took place and in doing so lost the real meaning of Christmas?

To break the story open and to let it speak to us again, we need to start by remembering what God is really like.

Because just as the Nativity easily becomes a sweet fairy story, so it’s easy for us to think of God as a benign grandfather, sitting in his armchair far away in heaven, watching us with a kindly smile on his face. 

But that’s not what he’s like at all. He is not a gentle old man, but a power beyond our imagining. A power that, the reading from Hebrews tells us, could create an entire Universe, and which could send that Universe spinning off to produce life in extraordinary abundance. 

And then, with that in mind, Christmas can start to emerge from the sweetness and speak to us again.

Because if God is all powerful, then Christmas is the story of God taking an almighty risk. His answer to the worlds problems is to put a defenceless baby in a grubby stable, at a time when being born was desperately dangerous. The baby is born to a first time Mum, far from her family and without any support from a midwife or a nurse. And, what’s worse, as the baby is born rumours reach the local ruler - who is renowned for his jealous grip on power - that this child might be a threat.

That’s hardly a safe thing for God to do. Surely the God who made everything could have done something safer, something less risky. Something more obviously powerful. But this is what he does - this is how he plans to save the world. Someone once wrote that ‘the Christmas cradle was so low that shepherds could kneel beside it and look, level eyed, into the face of God.’ .

That’s what happens at Christmas; the power that made everything, that called atoms and particles into being and caused gravity and mass and energy to exist, that opened up the potential for the fragile beauty of a petal and the majesty of a beech tree, that meant DNA could begin it’s spiralling journey towards life - the almighty power that made all this possible, is now available to you and to me. We can look God in the face, and know him.

And why did he do that? Why would he take such a terrible risk? Because the power that impels God to do what he does, is love. And out of love, unfathomable, unending love, he chose to join us in the reality of the mess and risk of life. 

Because love doesn’t sit on the sidelines, waiting for everything to be sorted out before it gets stuck in. Love is ready to get it’s hands dirty and to join in the mess. Christmas tells us that God doesn’t wait for us to get it all sorted before he comes to join us. 

God is content to join us in the messiness of life. He’s happy to be born into an ordinary family, who had nothing much going for them, and who, by having a baby before getting married, had a lot against them. Willing to be born in a food trough, in a dirty stable, in the middle of nowhere. This God who is with us, is with us whatever our life is like right now - whether it’s going great, or whether it’s a real struggle. God comes to join us, this story says, before we get it all sorted. The nativity tells us that God is here, right now, in the joy and mess of life. As close to you as your heart beat. Always there, always involved, always rooting for us. It tells us that he is with us whether we know it or not and whether we acknowledge him or not. That he is with us whether we think we are good enough, sorted enough, smart enough, Christian enough. He is simply with us.

And that simple truth changes everything. You are not alone. You never have been, you never will be. You are known, and loved, and held and cared for, in all you do. In whatever you are struggling with, God is with you. In whatever you rejoice over, God is with you. In whatever you hope and long for, God is with you. He has given himself to each one of us, for all eternity. That is the true power of Christmas. That is why you came here through the cold dark night. To know again that God is with you, and that he will never leave.  


Posted: 31/12/2014 at 08:12
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