Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, 2013, St Matthias

Readings:  Isaiah 35: 1-10; James 5: 7-10; Matthew 11: 2-11

Preacher:   Revd David Gardiner

May the words of my lips, and the mediations of all our hearts, be forever pleasing in your sight, O God our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I wonder what Christmas is for you, what it means to you? I’ve been asking various people what it means for them over the last couple of weeks.

For the lady on the till in Tesco, it’s a time for children, a magical time when we are called to remember and give attention to our children.

And certainly a child is at the centre of our celebrations today. We remember the birth of a baby, and so we remember children. But we also remember that that child was born into poverty, in a stable, in an occupied country. How many children are we called to think of today who will wake up lacking homes or food or family? What would you think if I told you it was 80,000, just in this country?

For the postman Christmas means lots and lots of work, and looking forward to it being over. And that’s probably something many of us can relate to. Many of us are used to being very busy, to living for a break, when we can relax and be ourselves. I wonder whether that’s how the shepherds felt that night on the hillside. Hard, boring, unpleasant and unsociable work; surely they couldn’t wait to be done with their work, and get home and safe to their families, to be able to concentrate on themselves for a change.

Jesus said he came that everyone who believes in him might have life, and have it more abundantly. This Christmas, perhaps the angels that came to bring the shepherd’s attention to the world changing around them are coming to some of us with the same message?

For a man I met in Greville House, Christmas is a time for family. His grown children coming to take him home with them for a few days, to share time with each other and show each other they are important.

Mary and Joseph supported each other through what was surely a vey difficult time. When they faced humiliation, hardship and violence, they did not abandon each other, but stuck together. They faced fear with love.

How well do we show our appreciation for the support of our loved ones? How well do we accept it? Perhaps the model of Mary and Joseph’s relationship is one that some of us need to recapture in our own relationships.

For a lady I met in Greville House, Christmas is a time of mourning and memories. The last of her immediate family died in December a year before.

Loneliness is a state that isn’t represented in the Christmas story; it’s not a state that is part of God’s plan with Christ. Yet it and mourning rear their heads in the weeks after Christmas, when we remember Herod’s violent reaction to the birth of Christ. Motivated by fear, hatred and greed, he had all male children of Jesus’ age in Bethlehem slaughtered.

Loneliness is not part of God’s plan, but we know it happens. When we see it happen in the world around us, in families, in churches, in our towns and our nations, what do we think about it? What should we do about it?

Whatever Christmas means to you, I think there’s one message that we should all keep close to our hearts. Whenever an angel came and spoke to someone in the Christmas readings, no matter whether the information hey were bringing was joyous, frightening, a warning, or simple praise of God, they always began by saying ‘do not be afraid.’

There is much in this world that needs God’s help; much that we need to do to transform this world into the kingdom that God intends for us. But no matter how big the task may seem, or how intimidating the problem may be, remember the message of God: Do not be afraid. Rely on the strength of God, who came to us in a frail baby, yet who is the salvation of the world.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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