Monday December 24, 2018
11:00 pm - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner
God has the habit of visiting us in his socks!
“God has the habit of visiting us in his socks – without shoes, so to speak. He never gives us time to put our faces right to greet him, or smooth our hair, or hide our untidinesses under the sofa cushion. There never is the best time for us to meet him, and he is always different from the way we picture him to be.
In a line waiting for food,
not at an appearance for an Oscar award evening.
Among the dispossessed and fearful,
not making a triumphant arrival in a tuxedo.”
Words of my predecessor, Father John Andrew preached one Christmas Eve.
That first Christmas Night was filled with unexpected things; in Jerusalem, King Herod was living in regal splendor; the priests and Levites busied themselves in the Temple; the Pharisees checked off the laws that they had dutifully kept; all of them unaware that something was about to happen that would shatter their world-view. Meanwhile, the little town of Bethlehem was bursting at the seams with the crowds that had arrived because of the Roman Census. Feelings were running high and the Roman guards were on the look-out for trouble brewing. Others were plotting; arguing and debating how to deal with the Roman occupation of the land.
Away from all of this were the Shepherds watching their flocks – reminiscent of the nomadic origins of God’s chosen people; living in the fields, and, surprisingly, it is to the Shepherds and not the King, or the High Priest, or the Pharisees, that the Angels appear.
The Angel’s message was not intended only for the Shepherds but, perhaps on that night they were the only people able to listen and understand. “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.”
To all people.
But, perhaps, only the Shepherds were attentive enough to God’s voice to hear the message while the rest of the world was preoccupied with their own agendas.
Good tidings in King James Version is the same as Good News – it is the Greek word for Gospel. The Angel brought the Gospel to the Shepherds and they were the first to see this Gospel, literarily, in the flesh…or should I say, see the Gospel enfleshed in the child in a manger. As we sang at the beginning of mass:“Child for us sinners, poor and in a manger, we would embrace thee, with love and awe.”
We would embrace him because he first embraced us! The Christmas story is the Good News of our salvation. God reaches out to us and comes in the most unexpected of ways – in the flesh – and laid in the manger where animals feed. Not in state (like King Herod and the Royal Family would have expected in Jerusalem). Not in majesty and awe (like the High Priest would have expected in the Temple). Not in power (like the Emperor Augustus would have expected in Rome).
He came in humility and poverty, and was born homeless, which reminds us that the Good News is for all people and not just a few; as Fr. Andrew said, “He is always different from the way we picture him to be…among the dispossessed and fearful, not making a triumphant arrival in a tuxedo.”
No wonder the Angels sang for joy, “Glory be to God on high and on earth peace, good will towards men!”
My friends, when you came into this church this evening, you walked over those words in a mosaic on the narthex floor. As you leave, peer down and see the message of the Angels which greeted you as you came to this Midnight Mass. It is so easy to miss it – as, indeed, it was missed by so many that first Christmas Night. The mosaic is surrounded by the emblems of the countries that were allies in the Second World War. They include countries that then became estranged from one another – countries that ushered in a cold war and an iron curtain; that lived in fear of one another and suspicious of one another. Some of those countries have not lost those feelings even today. Peace on earth will never be achieved simply by political means; it certainly cannot be achieved through force! Peace on earth, the peace that the Angels sang about to the Shepherds, can only come about when we listen to that message of Good News and realize that we must build, in the words of Dr Martin Luther King, a beloved community – which has the message of Jesus at its heart and not our own desires and longings; a community where there is trust not because it is the ethical thing to do but because Jesus is the way and the truth and the life; a community where all are valued, cherished, and respected regardless of who they are or how they live or where they come from, not because it is politically correct to do so, but because Jesus set that example first.
My friends, unexpected things happened on this night and they are happening again. Look around you – look at this vast crowd of people who have come to celebrate the gift of Christmas. There are many things you could have chosen to do this evening, but you chose to come here – to this sacred space. Why? Perhaps it was because it is your tradition to do so. Perhaps it is because of the music and the candles and the nostalgia which, for a brief moment, clouds out the sadness in your life; perhaps it is simply because you saw a line of people waiting around the block and you thought you were lining up to see the Rockette’s Christmas Show at Radio City and you now find yourselves trapped in church and listening to a sermon! Well, if you are one of those people – welcome! You chose the right line to join because this is a church that wants to be a beloved community and that lives the Good News that the angels sang about. Your story becomes part of our story for a little while this night and you will always be welcome here.
Let’s get back to the Shepherds. They were ‘nobody’s’. They were of no importance to most people who, probably, looked down on them as they were partying the night away in Bethlehem. Yet, through that crowd, and through the noise, and through the mixed messages, those shepherds made their way to the cave at the back of the inn where there had been no room for God’s son and they saw Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger, and they knelt down and worshipped.
In a moment, in a small piece of bread and a little wine, Christ will come among us this Christmas Eve. As we approach him with reverence and awe, let us welcome him into our hearts and lives and commit ourselves to the beloved community of which he is the origin and source of all life, and worship him.