Friday, December 17, 2010

Homily for a Carol Service

Tonight was the Village Carol Service at church on the hill.
Last year, the Herring of Christ produced a splendid service using the readings in "Times and Seasons" on the theme "good news for the poor".
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this did not go down too well with the PCC of Church on the Hill, who felt that he had "missed out on the meaning of Christmas".
Hmmn...Room for debate there, I'd say.
However, since they had so clearly been miserable with the service we had prepared we invited them to put it together themselves this year - and their decision was to go purely with the "Christmas story", using Luke (mostly), Matthew (for the wisemen) and of course, John.
I told them that this was fine, provided they didn't mind my breaking with tradition to give a short homily as I was unhappy that they were presenting the nativity story so out of context, and this was agreed.
Then my printer decided, with minutes to spare, that it needed to recalibrate - so whatever I said tonight, it wasn't exactly what I had planned.
Given that all the readings except my own were from the Authorised Version, I suspect the cause may be lost already....
Here's what I had hoped to say (no idea what I actually said...but suspect it was rather different)

In the past week websites and papers of a vaguely churchy disposition have been making much of a recent survey which reveals that for 48% of the population of the UK, the birth of Jesus is completely irrelevant to their celebration of Christmas.
It might be tempting for those of us in the churches to snort disapprovingly and mutter something indignant at this point – but I can't help but wonder if this is largely our fault.

You see, we aren't very good at helping people to understand why those events of long ago and far away are anything to do with us at all, só small wonder if they get the idea that we are celebrating something rather beautiful but quite unreal – meant for tiny children to present to us wearing tea towels or tinsel but nothing to do with life in the adult world.
The words of our carols can play into this too........whoever heard of a baby who made no crying? or a child that "throughout their wondrous childhood did honour and obey" his parents?
Or, come to that, a stable where all was calm and bright after an unplanned midnight delivery?
Just look at the windows in this church – and the depictions of the nativity on almost any Christmas card. 

It's all beautiful and clean – and utterly unreal.

Actually in a small way we're even contributing to the problem tonight.
I wonder if you noticed anything odd about the title of our first and last readings?
“In the sixth month” came first and “in the beginning” at the very end
That doesn't quite make sense , does it?
But it's the way that we invite people to look at Christmas
We ask them to leap straight into the middle of the story – without thinking about what came before, or what might come afterwards. But we've no hope of ever understanding a story if we don't have some idea of its context.

We tell people about the baby and the manger but not about the reason that baby was born.....as an incredible demonstration of God's love for us, that was to be presented even more clearly when that baby grew up and hung upon the cross.
Jesus was born because of the kind of people we are – all of us – when left to our own devices.
We're people who like our own way...people who are inclined to put ourselves or our families before the needs of others........and só there are still people homeless, people starving, people struggling with life in a world where others are able to enjoy plenty, comfort, luxury...

God arriving in our world as the baby in Bethlehem shows us another way – the path of self sacrifice that leads to the cross, but beyond the cross to the new life that Easter celebrates.

Christmas isn't a one off, isolated event but part of the story of God's love affair with the human race that has continued since the dawn of time and will continue til all of us are safely gathered into God's loving presence.
Through the ages, people have recognised this and chosen to live according to God's invitation to love...and their lives have shone to transform the dark of the world, reflecting that light which is at the heart of God...that light which St John's gospel celebrates.

Só this Christmas I invite you to take your part in the story, - the story which spans time and stretches into eternity.
You won't need tea towel or tinsel...just come as you are, like all the visitors to that stable......but go home changed, transformed, bearing Christ's light yourself.

2 comments:

marcella said...

"Last year, the Herring of Christ produced a splendid service using the readings in "Times and Seasons" on the theme "good news for the poor".
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this did not go down too well with the PCC of Church on the Hill, who felt that he had "missed out on the meaning of Christmas".

Well he seems to be in good company anyway. Some young girl called Mary seemed to think that it was all about that. How do they feel about the singing of the Magnificat?

serena said...

Great homily.