This Sermon was delivered at St Mary’s Diss at the Midnight Eucharist for Christmas 2019. Readings: Luke 1:26-2:20.
Lord, Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, our Rock and Our Redeemer. Amen.
I wonder if any of you have had a similar experience to my own in the last few days. I realised that I’d forgotten to get something which I think of as being one of those details that makes Christmas, Christmas. I’d forgotten to buy a couple of bags of those Gold Chocolate coins. It may sound daft but my family would always have them each Christmas and I realised that when we did our Christmas shopping orders I’d forgotten to order any. So I popped into the store quickly to buy some. I say quickly, clearly everyone else in town was also in the store! It was heaving and I found myself wondering about other people’s Christmas Traditions. What details is it that makes Christmas Christmas for the others in the store? I saw people with chocolates, with party crackers. I saw people with different cheeses, and some peculiar folk with far too many brussel sprouts.
This idea of Christmas traditions is an interesting one in our house because my wife, the Lovely Linnea, is Swedish, and the Swedish like various other european cultures, celebrate their Christmas today on the 24th. So for lunch we have had Christmas Ham, Beet Salad, potato bake and, of course, meatballs! We’ve actually had our stockings today joined in the time honoured swedish tradition of watching the Disney Christmas Special, “Donald Duck and his Friends wish you a Merry Christmas!”
Yes, each year at 3pm Sweden sits down and watches Donald Duck.
For each of us here tonight, gathering for the Midnight Service is one part of what makes Christmas, Christmas. We have gathered here in this building where people have gathered for some 800 years, and has looked similarish to this for 600 years.
Can you imagine being able to observe the rhythm of life which this building has witnessed?
The ebb and flow of the years and generations of people gathering to pray and worship. Visualise families bringing babies for baptism at the back, gathering to celebrate couples standing right here to get married. Standing to comfort one another for funerals. Have you seen those time lapse videos in David Attenborough documentaries or of the hustle and bustle of city life such as the intro credits for Sherlock? Imagine the same sense of the rhythm of life which this church has seen as year in and year out people like us, indeed for some of you people who were your grandparent’s great grandparents, gathered, like us because somehow the midnight service helps make Christmas, Christmas.
There’s something about this building at this time which draws us in. It’s as if there’s a rightness to it; perhaps a sense of connectedness, of being a part of the history of not just this Church but of our town, and indeed our country.
Having been drawn to this place we encounter this atmosphere. Look around you, take it in. There’s the candles, there’s the people. We’re singing carols and hearing the familiar nativity story of Angels, shepherds, a virgin and her baby boy laid in a manger because there was no room at the Inn.
As stories go, it somehow manages to be oddly reassuring and perplexing all at once. A Virgin gives birth. Angels talk of God’s Son, who will be a Saviour.
There’s a mix of the utterly ordinary – a normal young girl, shepherds looking after sheep – and of the extraordinary and divine. Angels, prophecies and God being born as a human baby.
Clearly this is the beginning of a much larger story. It’s an introduction to Jesus, and an invitation to want to find out more about what he’s going to do, and who he will be – not just in the story, but in the history which has shaped and influenced our lives. This story of Christmas is in a sense the foundations of this building to which we have been drawn to tonight.
Our sense of connection, of being a part of a larger ebb and flow of life in this place is at its heart a sense of connection to Christmas, and through Christmas to the God who became Jesus so that he could by his life, death, and resurrection become our saviour.
In a short while we, like those who have gone before us and those who will come after us, shall head to the altar rail. We do so to play our part in this ongoing Christmas story of faith, whether we are confident in Jesus as our Lord or whether we simply wish to reach out and encounter God afresh or for the first time.
Because at its core, the Christmas story with its angels and shepherds, its virgin mother and a baby in a manger, is the story of the God who comes close to us and blesses us.
And different traditions aside,
that’s what makes Christmas, Christmas.