Dear brothers and Sisters in Christ
This evening is a stopping place. We have many shopping places on the way towards Christmas. But this is a stopping place. A time to pause, and ponder and prepare for the coming of Christ.
As I look out at you this evening, I wonder what thoughts, worries, joys and prayers sit on you heart as we hear again, in word and song, the story of salvation unfolding through the birth of our Saviour. In what remain challenging times, we will each have our own hope and fears; and all of these are met in Christ this night and every night. As we face the reality of our lives, we ask God to shine upon us the light of his love, the love made flesh in the new-born Christ child. In changing times, God’s love is certain. In changing times, God’s love is personal, for you and for me. How important that we believe anew that Christ is born into our world, this world. That Christ is born into this world. That Christ is born into my life and your life. God’s loved in Christ is a gift which asks for love in return. But first, and most importantly, it is a gift; a free gift of divine love for you through His Son.
Last week, perhaps like some of you have been doing, I walked around the small Christmas market set up in front of the National Gallery. As I turned towards Whitehall, I saw this year’s Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square. If you’ve seen it, it looks very sorry for itself, more like one left over from last year, with spindly branches, all droopy and sad. But there beside it, in the Square, is a beautiful crib. The simple figures tell the timeless story of God’s love for our world.
Amidst all that is transitory and passing, Christ remains. When we feel sorry for ourselves; when we feel spindly and weak; when we feel droopy and sad, Christ remains. The arms that open to us from the manger, that are flung wide on the cross, will one day welcome us to heaven. As prayer I knew as a boy asks our merciful God to be present to us and protect us, ‘so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world may repose [in God’s] eternal changelessness.’ Christ remains. Whatever else changes, dies and passes away, Christ remains.
Christmas recalls how God became present to our world, working through unlikely people and unlikely circumstances: a young girl, Our Lady, a virgin, pregnant by the Holy Spirit; St Joseph, the foster father of the Lord Jesus; our Saviour’s birth in a cattle shed, with a feeding trough for a cot. Through his Son, God is present to us who might feel like unlikely people to receive such a gift. Our lives may seem unlikely places for God to want to be present. But God knows best. God knows you. God loves you here and now. Unlikely though we may feel. Unlikely though our lives may be, God loves and knows and is present.
It was shepherds who first heard the Good News of Christ’s birth. We usually think of them as poor, marginalised nomads, living out in the fields. But there’s another interpretation which says they were temple priests, not tending sheep in the wilderness, but close to Bethlehem, ensuring the lambs were unblemished and ready for sacrifice. Peasants or priests, whatever their social standing or wealth, the Angel’s message to the shepherds was: ‘Do not be afraid.’ – ‘Do not be afraid, for I bring you news of great joy.’ Can we hear this message again as we prepare for Christmas? Can we hear God’s loving presence speak the same words to us: ‘Do not be afraid?’ Whoever we are, God’s loving presence speak the same words to us, into our fears: I am Emmanuel, God with you and God for you. Do not be afraid.
Dear friends we believe in a crib with elastic, expanding walls. A crib that will welcome the Magi and a crib that welcomes us. A crib, a Saviour, a Church, where there is space for everyone. We believe in a crib of the heart, where Christ desires to be born. We believe in a crib and a Church with open doors. We believe that the Lord delights that we too have come to worship. We believe that Christ longs for our friendship; that His closeness brings reassurance; that His presence offers forgiveness; that His birth, His death and resurrection reveal the hope and beauty of heaven.
Christ remains. He is with us. We will not be afraid. Tonight the Lord invitation to you is to be loved. To be loved so as to love. To be loved so as to adore. To be loved so as to follow and serve in peace and joy.