Christmas Midnight

Fr Paul’s sermon

Sermon preached at All Hallows, Easton

Here in this darkened church, at this midnight hour, we do not need many words, we simply need silence to keep watch and to wonder. Christ is being born. God is entering the world he made, as one of its inhabitants. When the ancient Hebrews thought about the creation of the world, they depicted God as building himself a house, a Temple, in which he might take his rest. This is the moment when he does so, or should we say: that was the moment, more than two thousand years ago, when he did so? For God, all times are the same; it is only we who have to take reality one moment at a time journeying on towards our entrance into eternity.

In the days of Herod the king, Jesus was born at Bethlehem in Judaea. Caesar Augustus had ordered a census, and a poor carpenter and his wife were forced to travel from Nazareth where they lived, to the little town from which Joseph’s ancestors had come. Joseph the poor carpenter was himself a descendant of kings, so he must register in the city of David called Beth-lehem (a Hebrew word meaning “house of bread”). With him is his wife Mary, who is in the last stages of pregnancy.

Only Joseph and Mary know that the child she bears within her is the Messiah, the true King of Israel. It must have struck them as providential that the kings of the earth had, all unknowingly, conspired to ensure that the Son of David would be born in the town of David. Yet when they arrived, there was no room for them in the inn – symbolic of the way the world, then and now, fails to welcome its Saviour. They find shelter in a cave (I’ve been there) where animals were stabled. There Jesus was born, and tucked up not in a cot but in a manger.

Out in the fields below the town, still called the shepherds’ field, herdsmen were watching over their flocks. To them, and not to kings, the angel announces the birth. Luke says, “The glory of the Lord shone round about them.” In the Old Testament, the Glory of the Lord was the outward sign of his presence, when he dwelt in the Tabernacle in the desert, and in the Temple of Solomon. Now we have the sign that God is coming to dwell in the world he has made, of which Tabernacle and Temple were just images. And the immediate and particular dwelling place will be found in a new-born baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

We are keeping watch tonight, in celebration of that birth two thousand years ago, but also in celebration of God’s continual dwelling in the world. We live from moment to moment, constantly repeating and constantly trying to hold on to the important moments of our lives. Each time we come to Mass, each time we hear the priest repeat the words, “This is my Body, this is my Blood,” we share in the mystery of Emmanuel, God with us. This darkened church, tonight, is Beth-lehem, the House of Bread, the Bread of Life. In the Sacrament, Christ becomes truly present, and remains present as long as the outward signs endure – bread, the most basic food to sustain life, and wine the drink of celebration and fellowship.

Welcome Jesus tonight, and keep him with you. Don’t say, “Lord, there isn’t room in the main part of my life for you, it is full of so many other things, but I do have a little outhouse round the back of my life, and if I’m not too busy I’ll come and say hello sometimes.” Make room for Jesus right at the heart of your life. Make this communion the heart of your life.