Introduction and Call to Worship
Glory to God and peace on earth! This night the Angel sings of God’s glory as the light of the star shines around us. Tonight, we share the good news of great joy for all the people that is the birth of our Saviour. Let us worship God who, in great tenderness, comes to dwell among us in the babe of Bethlehem.
First Reading Isaiah 9:2-7
Words from the prophet that speak of light shining in the darkness, oppression being lifted, and the beginning of endless peace, justice and righteousness – real hope in real time.
Second Reading Titus 2:11-14
Some thoughts about how the coming of grace and salvation must affect the way we live our lives.
Gospel Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]
The telling of the birth of Jesus Christ, of his being laid in a manger because there was no space in the inn, and of the shepherds who heard and believed the message of the angels and ran to Bethlehem to see the child for themselves.
HOMILY ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.’ (Isaiah 2:7,8)
How will Christmas dinner be different after Brexit? No Brussels.
How are you feeling on this Christmas Eve? I really look forward to Midnight Mass! It is the highlight of the year – not because I get to see you – but because of the mystery of it all as I come to worship Jesus at this midnight hour. So, a question for you: How many Anglicans does it take to change a light bulb? I suspect that for many people Midnight Mass has a dreamlike quality; it touches a spiritual and emotional nerve. The candles, the comforting music, the warmth, the anticipation... It is what dreams are made of. It is also a time for hope and each year I approach this service with a heart open to deep prayer because tonight, as we gather in worship and celebration, we also pause to reflect upon the world in which we live. And what a turbulent year since we last gathered here by candlelight: elections that nobody could predict, earthquakes, wildfires, wars and great suffering. It seems as if the world is covered in darkness these days with so much that leaves us fearful. Amid that sense of darkness is the hope of Christmas and our yearly remembrance of the birth of Jesus, the Light of the World.
St Mary’s has a long tradition of marking Christmas with lighting around our church and tower, evolving – as the best traditions do – to our current set of decorations including an illuminated nativity scene, continuing our tradition of teaching the Christmas story. The central biblical image here is light, because Christmas is all about light as the prophet Isaiah identifies in our first reading: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.’ (Isaiah 2:7,8)
Tonight, Isaiah’s words may have extra meaning: “Those who dwell in a land of deep darkness.” It does seem as though our world is darker now than for a long time, with people carrying out dreadful acts of violence and hatred against the innocent. Is this how you feel, too? Isaiah’s words may have been addressed to a far-off place thousands of years ago, but they also speak to us here and now, don’t they? We can feel like those in darkness; in the face of personal challenge, of sickness, vulnerability, fear for the future, financial uncertainty, political and social change, fear of terrorism, and so much more. Yes, my friends, we too can often feel “in the dark”. But Isaiah is not a prophet of doom for his message is one of hope, change and new life. His prophecy about light is fulfilled in the birth of the Christ child, who is the light of life. (John 1) And the Christmas story, with angels, shepherds and a warm stable in Bethlehem, draws us into the place where the real presence of Christ dwells...just like our tower lights and nativity scene draw people from around Thorpe to this Church. Here, in our very midst is located the most precious gift. For here tonight, in the pageantry and symbolism of our traditional Midnight Mass, in the glorious music, the words of the familiar carols and in the food of heaven we share at the table as we break bread and share wine, light shines in the darkness. Jesus is with us, present and calling to us. He wants his light to shine through us, that all darkness is overcome by His incredible light and life.
Light and peace are words often associated with the Christmas story, and every year we hear it again. In tonight’s Gospel, it is angels who deliver words that can be so familiar to us; yet we need to hear them again and again: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)
The shepherds were about their work, just another night on the hillside, out in the dark with their sheep. Suddenly they are surrounded by light – it was the last thing they were expecting as the heavenly host descend. The angels’ news demands an immediate response from them! They were just shepherds – nobody special; but once they had overcome their initial shock they were immediately open to the angels’ message. They left their sheep, left their work, their old lives behind and went in search of the family with the child who would transform their fortunes, their future, their very world. They wouldn’t be the first people to risk their livelihoods because of Jesus and they are not the last. Perhaps this Christmas God has a message for you. It may just be this is the year the light of Christ will be kindled anew in your heart.
Have you seen the new “Star Wars” film yet? No? Well, it is like they have pressed the re-set button and taken us back in time before all of the others, which is a very clever move as it opens all sorts of new film opportunities. Which reminds me...how does Darth Vader like his Christmas turkey? On the dark side... The birth of Jesus is just like God has pressed the re-set button and started our relationship with him anew. For in God’s eyes, we are all important and that is why a new light has dawned. That is why there is so much to be hopeful about. That is why we decorate our beautiful church with lights at Christmas to celebrate good news of great joy. That is why people leave everything behind to follow Jesus. But that also requires us to take a risk: to trust in faith, to live in his light. We want Christmas to be wonderful, magical, special, and it is. But it is even more than that. Christmas is God reaching out to each one of us to kindle the fire of his love in our hearts. Christmas is about Jesus being re-born into our very lives so that his light can shine through us into the lives of all around us; His values radiate from us; His message, the scriptures, dwell within us and shape our priorities. His very presence, mediated in simple bread and wine, does renew us as we journey in his light.
For the shepherds, Jesus’ birth was made known by the descending of angels. Whatever the reason, whatever our motivation for being here, the words of the prophet Isaiah many thousands of years ago, are fulfilled. ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.’ Amen.
1. The great prophet Isaiah foretells the coming of Jesus as light dawning.
2. The shepherds were not expecting the message of the angels, but they were open to believe its truth.
3. They responded immediately, despite putting their livelihoods at risk by abandoning their sheep and running to see the Christ child for themselves.
4. St Mary’s Tower Christmas Lights teach the Gospel message and act as a visible witness within the community of Thorpe to Jesus’ birth and call to all people.
5. We are invited to ponder the ways in which God is heard and known in our lives. for the light of Christ is for each one of us to share with others over the coming year.