The following is the text of my sermon at Midnight mass today.
Well, we’re nearly there, the wait is almost over!
I don’t know if your household is anything like mine, but we’ve all been getting really excited as Christmas has drawn closer – and my younger son even wanted to set up a “santa-cam” in his bedroom so that he could catch Father Christmas filling his stocking!
But I don’t know if it has ever struck you as odd to have this huge celebration now – at this time of year? I mean, here we are – it’s literally the middle of the night, on mid-winter’s evening (give or take a day), the longest and darkest night of the year. And in any case why do we even remember the birth of a baby born over 2,000 years ago, to an otherwise entirely anonymous teenage couple living in Palestine? Not exactly front page stuff, is it?
Except, of course, it is front page stuff – or at least it became headline news. Because this baby wasn’t just another baby. This baby grew up to become Jesus Christ – that strange and mysterious figure that history simply won’t let go of. As his followers today, we believe him to be the Saviour of the world. We believe that this baby was the only person in the whole of history who chose to be born – and that he chose it out of love to rescue us from darkness and sin. This baby, who we believe to somehow be God himself in human form, come to earth, to be born in an occupied backwater of the Roman Empire. Who came to be the light – to show us the way back into relationship with God. As we heard in the reading:
“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2)
And this perhaps is a clue as to why we have gathered here this evening in this long, dark, and cold December night – exactly because it is a long, dark, and cold night. The truth is that the world needs a light because it is dark. We need only look at today’s headlines to see just how dark these times are. War, death, corruption and violence. But into this darkness comes the Good News, the glad tidings of the angels that Isaiah goes on to talk about:
“For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6,7)
This is the Good News of Christmas, that God has come to earth to be our light. I think the wise men were onto something when they studied the stars – you see, each and every year, a cosmic drama is played out in the heavens, which in some way reflects the whole story of creation. We start in June, when all is new and good. Life abounds, the sun shines. But then our sin and selfishness spoils God’s good creation, and the darkness gains a foothold. In the same way the sun starts to be slowly but surely beaten back by the night. Every day a few more minutes are stolen by the night. The darkness grows, and the light retreats. Until eventually we reach the end of December, where the night lasts almost twice as long as the day, and it feels like the sun barely rises above the horizon.
Will it just continue getting darker and darker, colder and colder? Is there any hope?
But then, in the deepest midwinter, something changes. It takes several weeks before we start to notice, and the coldest time still lies ahead – but the balance of power has shifted, and the sun is now in the ascendency. From here on, it is the night which must give up the minutes, and the light which will return – bringing with it as we know the new life of spring, the warmth and long days of summer.
So it is with this baby, born in Bethlehem. The balance of power has shifted, if you like. This baby, when grown up, will defeat the power of darkness, by giving up his life on the cross. The true light has come into the world, bringing the promise and first fruits of the new, eternal, spring.
We are still living in cold, dark days – as our newspapers and televisions daily remind us. Darkness is not giving up without a fight. But Christmas reminds us that the tide has turned. That there is hope. That one day the darkness will disappear completely, and that we are invited to live in a new heaven and new earth, where there will be no tears, suffering, or sickness, where God himself is our light. The baby in the manager is our own winter solstice. The turning point of history. And unlike the astronomical dance of the planets, this is a permanent solstice, which will never be reversed.
So, this Christmas eve, maybe you are already living in the light of the Son. You are living in the hope of the spring – in which case hallelujah, let’s celebrate the birth again with joy and wonder.
But maybe you are in the middle of a deep dark winter. Maybe you need a winter solstice in your own life, a glimmer of hope, a hint that maybe lighter days are ahead? If so, this Christmas time is an invitation for you to dare to believe the message of the angels, to dare to believe that this helpless baby is God himself, to trust him and accept him as your saviour.
Isaiah promises that a great light will come to those living in a land of darkness. Jesus is that light. For unto us a son is given, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.