Fr David’s sermon Christmas 2016
“Do not be afraid! For, see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people.” (Luke 2:1-14) – Midnight Mass
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-14) – Day Mass
As Christmas time approached, plans were made for the annual infants’ school nativity play. Children were being assigned their parts: angels, shepherds, wise men, Mary, and Joseph. And then there was Ben. Ben was a rather naughty boy; one of those lads never in the right place at the right time; always with an excuse for work not done; always the one without the right kit when it came to PE. Not the most reliable lad. He waited – then, his joy knew no bounds; as he heard the teacher say, “Ben, I want you to be the Innkeeper.” (Not many lines to learn; only one scene – he would be able to do that.)
The rehearsals got underway with the manger, beards, crowns, and a stage full of squeaky voices. Ben would stand in the wings, watching the performance with fascination. His teacher had to make sure he did not wander on-stage before his cue. Then came the long-awaited night. Ben stood holding a lantern by the door of the Inn, watching as the children who portrayed Mary and Joseph came near him.
“What do you want?” Ben called.
“We seek a room for the night. My wife, Mary is about to give birth to our child. We need a rest and you are our last hope.”
“There is no room in this inn for you!” said Ben on cue.
“Sorry, you will have to go!” the prompter whispered from the side of the stage.
“Sorry, you will have to go!” Ben repeated automatically.
Joseph sadly placed his arms around Mary and Mary laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder, and the two of them started to move away.
Innkeeper, Ben, stood there, watching the forlorn couple. His mouth was open; his brow creased with concern; his eyes began to fill with tears.
“Don’t go, Joseph!” Ben called. “Bring Mary back! You can have my room!”
Well, they didn’t really need to do the rest of the play. Ben had delivered the best Xmas sermon ever.
A friend of mine who teaches sat James Maddison University in Virginia told me of a nativity play (or pageant) that he saw in the university junior school. Mary and Joseph and all the animals were in place…all carefully rehearsed and dressed in perfectly improvised costumes. They acted their parts with utmost seriousness – looking as pious as they possibly could. And then it came time for the shepherds to enter. In they came in flannel bathrobes and towelled head gear, one carrying a fluffy lamb tucked under his arm; they solemnly approached the platform steps upon which sat Mary and Joseph looking adoringly at the manger full of straw which contained a single light-bulb that was playing the part of the radiant new-born Jesus.
Then quite unexpectedly, one of the shepherds turned to Joseph and said in a loud voice: “Well, Joe, when you gonna pass round them cigars?”
The solemnity of the occasion was blown apart by this ad-libbed remark. Mary and Joseph burst into fits of giggles; the audience couldn’t contain themselves and the chief angel – standing on a stool in the background fell off her stool she was laughing so much, and as she fell she pulled the starry night back drop with her and fell in a heap on the floor. The manger tipped over. But that light bulb in the manger – it never stopped shining!
The light, indeed shines in the darkness. And the nativity of Jesus is more about challenge than charm. Christmas is about an invisible God making himself seen and known to us in vulnerability and love. God gives himself to us in that stable amidst the chaos of poverty and weakness – no power and triumph…just a shivering baby lying amidst the hay and the dung: and there he is for all to see. The all powerful God in human shape.
This is how God is: he acts by giving away all we might expect to find… no strength or success as the world understands those things. The mess of the world is redeemed by a love that refuses to take control… to force us or bully us into belief: it is the love of the cradle and the cross. When you are hurting and suffering the pain and cruelty of the world… it is only then, that you can recognise the hurt and suffering of others… it is only then you can hold hands with the vulnerable and walk with them through this world.
So yes… the Christmas story is about chaos and mess – but it is also a story about the need to recognise hope in humility. Humility is a different road to that of the haughtiness of the corrupt which has led to so much hardship in our world. Humility is a different road to that of the arrogance and aggression, which has given rise to a horrible cycle of violence and brutality, which has wounded our cities; our politics; the nations of our this past year. Humility is a different road to that of the indifference and lack of caring which leads to hopelessness.
Having seen the Christ (the chosen one of God), shining as a dependable, defenceless, vulnerable baby in a manger, there is hope for us all. No matter how dark and violent this world may be at times – we know that because of the birth of Jesus; God made flesh and blood for you and me – there will always be hope if we can make room for each other in our own hearts. Do not be afraid – there will always be hope, because there will always be love to give; there will always be love to receive.
The light will always shine in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.