Thursday, December 24, 2015

Sermon for Midnight Mass at Wolvey, Christmas Eve 2015

Christmas and candles really seem made for one another.

For me, candles add a beauty all their own to this most beautiful night and in the days around the winter solstice, that period of greatest darkness, we are specially thankful for the warmth and light they bring.

They aren't always that convenient, of course...
One of the congregation at our Carols by Candlelight service on Sunday was so incensed by the lack of a decent light to read by that she produced a truly enormous electric torch, with which she so dazzled her neighbours that they struggled to see the words of the carols at all… 

We live in an age where light can just happen – at the flick of a switch – so perhaps we don't really grasp how frightening and oppressive darkness can seem, how alarming the longer nights of winter were to our ancestors. Perhaps the sun was gone for good.
Best make fires, then, to encourage it to return…

Looking at the homes of my neighbours over the past couple of weeks, you’d be forgiven from thinking that we haven’t actually moved on much – there are so many many Christmas lights, pushing back the darkness. From my house I can see a comet tracking across the house of one neighbour, a solar powered reindeer standing sentry beside the front door of a second, and  blue and white flashing icicles hanging on the house of a third. The candle-bridge in the Canonry window feels decidedly apologetic in comparison…a very junior player in the battle.
You see, even with childhood fears outgrown, most people still don't much enjoy the dark.
Who knows what dangers might lurk in the corners, how easily we might get lost, go hopelessly astray as we seek a way home...?

And so the darkness has, since the early days, become an image for all that is sad and broken in our world.
The grieving families of Syria, China, Paris feel it pressing very close, of course, and near and far there will be many for whom the comfort and joy that we sing about feel impossible.  

Terrible, tragic things happen – even at Christmas time. People mourn, believe that they will never be happy again... 

A Cathedral service on Monday, the longest night, drew many who felt unable, for whatever reason, to join in the giant party that Christmas seems to have become…They came feeling the darkness was real and oppressive in their own lives – but they came hoping that, somewhere, there might be enough light to take the next step, and the next, and the next… 

And somehow, as we gathered around the table and shared bread and wine, things DID change…
The grief and pain of the world did not miraculously vanish….but the candles that we lit through our prayers and our music, and by building honest community together may have flickered a little, but they did not go out,

So – despite the news headlines, despite the gulf between the reality of our own lives and the airbrushed perfection of a commercial Christmas, despite the fears and griefs that we all carry, still on this holy night we come to celebrate.

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it.

In this, the week of deepest darkness, we gather to rejoice in that gift of hope that Christmas offers. Born in poverty, a refugee whose birth was followed by violence and bloodshed, Jesus brought the Love of God into our world in a human life. From the beginning, he drew others – shepherds and wise men at first. And as they came close to him, they were touched and changed by that love which shone through everything that Jesus said, and did and was.

As he grew up, and told them wonderful stories that showed them the way to live, they began to learn to share that love with others, - fishermen, tax collectors, working men, women and children – a whole rag tag of humanity drawn to the light.

They told their friends.....who told their friends....who told their that down through the ages the light of that love was passed in a relay that puts even an Olympic torch to shame.

Of course – loving like that is costly. Remember, a candle destroys itself as it burns. It makes a gift of itself to shed light for others.

Loving like that cost Jesus everything...and on the 1st Good Friday, it looked as if the darkness of the world had won forever.

Jesus died – and with him died the hopes and fears of all the years.

But …...after 3 days came Easter, new life, new hope as the light burst forth again...

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it

So now, today, we have the choice and the chance to share that light with others.
We can share it with our words – as we remind others that Christmas begins with Christ, God's gift for the world forever.
We can share it by our actions – as we give love and care, time and energy, to those who need to know that there IS still love in the world.
It will be costly for us too  – at least, if we do it properly(to give enough, in the Kingdom of God, is always to give until it hurts) ...but it's a cost well worth bearing - and the rewards are beyong imagining.

Christmas is a good time for stories, so let me share one with you now before I close. 
A long time ago, a wealthy man decided to build a church for the tenants who worked on his estate. It was an exciting project, which drew crowds of villagers over the weeks and months as the building took shape. Finally, in the depths of winter, the church was finished and the doors opened for the first ever Christmas service. But oh – disaster – when the doors opened, the building was dark. There were no windows. The villagers hurried home and returned with candles, lanterns, whatever they could find.
One of them spoke to his landlord
“What went wrong? You must be so angry. How stupid of your builders. What an awful awful mistake”
“Not at all” said the landowner.
“I always intended it this way. I wanted you to bring your light with you…to remind you that God’s Church, without God’s people, is cold and dark and useless…And I wanted you to take your lights out with you, to remind you that THAT is what you are for…You are to bear the light of God’s love out into the darkest corners of our village and beyond”

Nothing has changed.

You’ve been drawn here tonight, whether you know it or not, by the light that first shone in the stable in Bethlehem – the light that is life for all people.

And as you go from here, carry that light with you – to guide you through all that lies ahead.

So, whatever you are going home to, take God’s love with you and show a troubled and hurting world the great truth that is at the heart of Christmas




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