SERMON FOR CHRISTMAS MORNING 2012
Sometimes at St Mary’s I feel as though I am living in the inside of a kaleidoscope. You know the old-fashioned cardboard tubes you look through to see a coloured pattern at the end. Then you twist the tube and the pattern changes again and again.
In the course of the past few weeks, it seems as though the kaleidoscope has been twisted quite a few times. There was the Saturday when the church was packed to the utmost with crafts stalls for the designer fair. Cupcakes and purses and scarves were on sale in the sanctuary. The servers’ vestry was a changing room. The chapel was filled with jackets and nightgowns. And out of the parish room volunteer serving staff carried an endless array of luncheon treats for the customers of the café.
The following week the blue carpet area was turned into a very professional theatrical set, with proper lights and sound and big black curtains. It provided the setting for our original parish pantomime with a cast of all ages. Mary and Joseph did their best in a confusing situation, Gabriel kept trying to manage everything for the best, the shepherds were bolshie, the three kings were drama queens, Herod was hissed and his henchmen made terrible jokes. Two performances were sold out and the audiences laughed and cheered and sang.
Alongside these two events there were four school carol services, two funerals, two weddings and the St Paul’s School nativity performances, performed twice for capacity audiences of parents and grandparents. And of course, all the usual Advent services have taken place in St Mary’s throughout the month, finishing on Sunday night with a full house for the service of readings and carols.
Every one of these events involved moving chairs, tables, candles, flowers and props in order to create the right setting. Each one had its own atmosphere of solemnity, mourning or celebration.
But perhaps my favourite turn of the kaleidoscope comes every Monday evening, when the nave of the church is turned into a dining room with candlelit tables for our cold weather shelter guests and music playing on the sound system. Table tennis, chess and Monopoly are played in the blue carpet area. The centre becomes a dormitory for men and the parish room a dormitory for women. The atmosphere on those Monday evenings is really special. It is peaceful and purposeful, cheerful and welcoming. The church is truly a sanctuary for the homeless every week. Several of the guests have told us that Monday at St Mary’s is their favourite night of the week. A number of them have written prayers in our intercession book, or spent some time before the altar.
The cold weather shelter has been run by volunteers, led by Celyn, for three winters now. It has transformed my experience of Christmas. When we hear the old story of Mary and Joseph being turned away on all sides until they are finally given shelter in a stable, I can now put faces to the holy family. Of all the events that take place in this church, none is holier than the giving of sanctuary to Christ whom we meet in the wayfaring stranger.
Christmas is the season when we remember how deeply God has entered into our world with all its joys and sorrows, its hopes and fears. The focus at this time of year in the wider world is quite rightly on those who are lonely, in need, sad or homeless. Secular society may be uncertain about the gospel message but somehow it makes us want to let those on the fringes know that they are not alone.
Christians believe that when we offer food, shelter, company and hope to those who are in want, we are truly serving Christ himself, who was born into this world as a vulnerable child. And the help and friendship we offer is not ours alone – it also God’s, because everything we give comes from what we have already received. The Holy Spirit that motivates us into action and gives us the gifts we need for service.
So we are caught up in a virtuous circle of love, the endless giving and receiving that is at the heart of God. It is our privilege and our calling to join in this dance of mutual service. We receive all that we have from God, and the Holy Spirit enables us to serve Christ in the people we meet.
This is how it has been from the very beginning. The majestic words of John’s gospel echo the story of Creation in Genesis. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him.
The whole structure of creation is a dynamic interplay between the Father, who is the source of all things, and the Son, who is God’s agent in the world. Jesus is the eternal Word, who speaks creation into being, and then enters it himself to put flesh on that Word. Born as one of us, fully human as well as fully divine, he takes into himself every human experience.
This year there is a bleakness about the Christmas season as we remember the terrible events at the school in Newtown. No parent’s happiness can be untroubled when we think of the bereaved parents in that place. And closer to home there are heartaches in every family. For some it is the first Christmas following a divorce or a death. For others it is a Christmas when financial worries have overshadowed the pleasure of giving. Some people are anxious about their health, some about their children or their parents.
Christmas is about the children, we like to say. Of course there is truth in that. One of my favourite moments this year was watching the Sunday school nativity with its small winged angels and an assortment of really exotic beasts. Many proud and sentimental parental tears have been shed in this building over the past few weeks.
But turn the kaleidoscope just a fraction and we will be reminded that Christmas is about all of us. Whatever our need – the basic ones of food, shelter and money, or the spiritual needs to have loving relationships and a sense of purpose in our lives – Christmas is the time to celebrate the presence of Jesus among us, bringing hope to our darkness. We are never alone. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.
May the joy, wonder and excitement of the children remind us that the celebration of Jesus’ birth is a day to celebrate the greatest gift ever given. Thanks be to God.