Sermon for Midnight Mass, Christmas Eve, 24th December,
by Revd Catherine Duce

May I speak in the name of the living God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Tonight we celebrate one of the greatest mysteries of all time.
And many of us will mark this mystery by the giving and receiving of gifts.

I invite you to imagine you have just been given a gift.

There is an etiquette to follow: depending upon whether the giver of the gift is in the room with you. This etiquette involves eye contact, a warm smile, a suitably sustained study of the gift label, for any clues of contents. Then the unwrapping of the gift itself: do you rip off the wrapping at great speed or snip away carefully at the celotape? Do you untie knots or cut the string? Each unfold of the paper heightening the anticipation, of the climax, the revelation, the moment of discovery of what the gift actually is. Our minds decide in a millisecond whether something is useful or desirable. Our reactions are read like a book. You break out into a warm smile. You exchange an expression of gratitude. Followed by a sustained and dignified pause, before taking your next move. This etiquette is so fragile, it’s so wondrous and it can be so beautiful when reciprocated. A little slice of heaven here on earth.

It can also mask a myriad of difficult truths.

The honest truth is that many of us find Christmas rather more difficult than we care to admit. As we heard in John’s gospel: Christ came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. There are four difficulties we can face.

First, fear. An outward exchange of gifts and all the pleasantries sounding it can mask a fear of isolation. A fear that our gifts are not good enough. A fear that our guests might not be comfortable. To compensate for our fear we go into overdrive. It becomes easier to keep Christmas in the realm of our own control. An event for children to enjoy and sentimentalise.
The tragedy is that our fear of losing control can lead us to lose touch with the mystery, the wonder, the miracle at the heart of it all; a miracle leading us out of our comfort zone.

First fear. Second, brokenness. Many of us find Christmas difficult because of relationships. The family dynamics that rise like a pressure cooker when the cranberry sauce gets spilt or the turkey gets burnt. We give gifts in the hope of solving a lifetime’s disconnect from those we love. We give gifts to mask relationships void of loving attention. The tragedy is that our broken relationships can lead us to lose perspective on where the true power lies at Christmastide.  

Fear. Brokenness. Thirdly, reminiscence. There can be unhealthy levels of reminiscence at Christmas. Looking backwards is only natural but it can mask our sight of the wondrous gift right before our eyes this holy night. We grieve for times of old but this can lead us away from listening afresh to the promise proclaimed here tonight, a promise beckoning an eternity of companionship.

Fourth, Christmas can be difficult because of high exhaustion levels and a general malaise after a divisive, tumultuous year on our national and international stage. Our dizzying busyness and deeply entrenched camps hide a truer deeper gift awaiting our reception and response. To all who received him, were gifted the Prince of peace, an everlasting peace.

The truth is we’ve been given a gift more precious than we can possibly imagine – it’s the gift that so many of us are craving – the gift of a loving, unconditional, unjudgemental, everlasting relationship with a companion, our Lord Jesus Christ.

A Wonderful Counsellor born this night to quell our fear.
A Mighty God born this night to heal our brokenness.
An Everlasting Father born this night with a promise that is eternal.
A Prince of Peace born this night to gift our world rest from warfare and greed and violence.
This new born King shows us the way to love.
This new born King cherishes us and leads us to life in all its abundance.

I am struck by some words our vicar Sam Wells used in a Christmas message some years back– He wrote this:

“We have been given this whole world- a playground of delight. We have been given time and space to grow and learn and experiment and discover. We have been given taste to relish, sight to dazzle, touch to treasure, hearing to enthral. We have been given beauty beyond value, music of the heavens, hearts to love and minds to ponder. We have been given a story that shows us where we fit into this great cosmic drama, a promise of companionship with God and a place at God’s table forever. Yet, it seems so many people rush past this dazzling gift, seemly unbothered by God, whose only purpose for existence is to be bothered about us!”

We can all be guilty of missing the gift. Yet when we reach out and allow ourselves to get swept up in this great cosmic drama then surprising things happen. When we live life attuned to the truth that each one of us is precious in God’s sight, then, I promise you, life takes on a richer, life transforming dimension.

The reason we exchange gifts at Christmas is to mirror the greatest gift of all time to humanity – the gift of God becoming human in the form of a tiny fragile baby so that we might become vessels for the divine. So that we might become bearers of the fruit of the Spirit in our broken world – Words fleshed out through us, and shared among us.

I challenge you this Christmas to speak to one person you find difficult or whose opinions you disagree with and to gift that person a slice of love, joy, peace, kindness, gentleness, or forgiveness; a gift that mirrors the life of the divine.

We gather week by week, day by day in this church of St Martin-in-the-Fields to accompany people from all walks of life on this adventurous journey. Come and join us!

What better night to reconcile yourself with the Christ child the night the Word became flesh and lived among us.

You can encounter Christ this life giver and life saver afresh at the Eucharist here tonight to which everyone is welcome no matter how long it’s been since you last came to the church.

As you come up to receive the gift – this time, not an imagined gift but a real gift, a gift to nourish you, a gift given again and again to refresh you, may the Christ child be reborn afresh in your heart this holy night.

As you come up, there is an etiquette to follow: God, the giver of the gift is here with you, waiting by your side, praying, yearning, longing for your attention. God’s loving gaze is upon you, God’s loving smile is delighting in you, God’s patient, sustained study of your heart, waits longingly for any clues of your response.
Will you receive this gift afresh tonight?
The etiquette is fragile, it’s so wondrous and it can be so beautiful when reciprocated. A little slice of heaven here on earth. Amen.