Sunday December 25, 2016
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner
"Heaven and earth in little space"
This Christmas has been a very, very special one for me and for my wife; our first grandson, only 11 weeks old, has come to stay! He has filled our home with joy, laughter and wonder, all mixed in with the occasional bout of screaming the house down! Being an adoptive parent, this birth is all the more special to me and I have found the Advent and Christmas bible readings this year particularly poignant.
Last night, at Midnight Mass, we heard the gospel of the angel announcing good news to the shepherds and their subsequent joy at finding the Christ child in the manger. As I was thinking about my sermon I was looking after young Edward John (or Eddie-J as the Gentlemen of the Choir have nicknamed him) while his parents had an early night, preparing themselves to be woken so they could feed him. He did all the things that babies do – he gurgled and he cried; he was hungry; he had wind; he was sick; he needed changing; he smiled (I really like that bit at the moment) and, finally, still feeding, he drifted off into a deep, deep sleep. It was my responsibility to tiptoe into his parents’ bedroom, swaddle him and place him in his crib.
The trouble was, once I left him, I couldn’t sleep; I kept thinking – “Did I do things properly? What if he is sick now? Perhaps I should go and check him?” The utter dependence of this baby on its parents and, indeed, on us when we look after him is precious and quite overwhelming. The presence of a baby in our household has changed Christmas forever; what a gift we have been given!
Now, with those images of dependency in your minds, come with me to the gospel reading we have just heard; to the first lines of John’s Gospel – profound and charged with meaning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The beginning of John’s Gospel is not just beautiful and profound; it is good news – the same good news shared by Luke last night when he described the visit of the shepherds to the manger.
When we read the beginning of John’s Gospel, we are not leaving the manger, and the shepherds, and Mary and Joseph; we are not leaving the dependency of the baby born in a manger. The Good news is that the creative Word of God, that which existed with God from the beginning, the second person of the Trinity, leapt down from heaven and became a human being in the womb of Mary. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” And in so doing, God’s glory was made manifest. The angels, the shepherds, Mary, and Joseph beheld God’s glory; the Word made flesh. God experienced human dependency; he became hungry – he needed to be fed; he became dirty – he needed to be changed; he became one of us so that we could be saved.
The medieval Christmas carol, O Magnum Mysterium, brings home the immediacy of the incarnation: “O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament, that animals should see the new-born Lord, lying in a manger!”
In the story of Christmas, God comes to the center of our lives in a helpless baby in an animal-feeding trough. The Word of God, which made everything, made himself small in the small space that was Mary’s womb; he who is the light of the Universe shut himself up in the darkness of Mary’s womb for nine months. Another medieval carol, referring to Mary as a beautiful rose, puts it thus: “For in this rose containèd was; Heaven and earth in little space.”
Some would call this paradox – we, Christians, call it incarnation.
There is yet another image of Mary which I love, it is the image of the baker woman. I remember a hymn written about it in which Mary prepares the ingredients needed to make bread, kneading the dough for nine months until it is proved and then baked and ready to be shared and eaten. It is, of course, a very poignant image for the name Bethlehem means ‘House of Bread,’ and that is where Mary bore Christ, who said that he was the Bread of Life.
We often talk about the sacrifice of the mass and the place of Calvary in the Eucharistic action. But the mass is also about the incarnation – for if the Word had not become flesh we would not have received his command to do this in remembrance of him. and be able to adore his sacramental presence in a way that echoes the adoration of the shepherds and the magi. O Sacrum Convivium - “O sacred banquet! in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us!”
Future glory! My friends we were not able to adore Jesus in the manger but wee glimpse his resurrected and ascended glory in a small piece of bread and a sip of wine. One day he will return to make all things new and we shall behold his glory face to face “the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
In the mass the whole truth of the Christian Gospel comes together; the Word made flesh; is presence on earth as Jesus Christ; his life-giving death; his glorious resurrection and ascension; and the promise of Glory to come.
And do you see the wonder of this mystery? It is for everyone! At the manger there are kings and shepherds - rich and poor; at the manger, status, learning and importance do not matter. The shepherds were nomads, in a sense the homeless; the magi were foreigners on a long journey, probably not even Jews; there was room for all at the manger, which means that there is room for all at the altar of Jesus Christ.
God has given us the greatest gift – his very self – in the Christmas story, and he will come among us again in this mass; such amazing love; such an indescribable gift! What will our gift be in return?
“What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him…Give my heart.”