The following is my sermon for Midnight Mass at St Michael’s Parish Church, Landrake. As you will see, I concentrate on the reading from St John’s Gospel:
Loving Lord, as we meditate on your Word may you be once again born in our hearts that we might shine as your light in the world. Amen. John starts his Gospel with poetry. I’d like to start tonight with a story. It’s not my story, I didn’t make it up, I’ve stolen it from a TV programme*, and I’ve no idea where the writers got it from, but nonetheless I associate this story with Christmas because it comes from a Christmas episode. It begins with a man. And this fella’s walking along the street when he falls down a hole. The walls are steep and he can’t get out. After a little while a doctor walks by. “Hey, you” the fella shouts up, “Can you help me out?” The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down the hole, and walks on. A while later a priest walks by. “Hey, Father, can you help me out?” The priest writes a prayer out, throws it down the hole, and walks on. Sometime later a friend walks by. “Hey, Joe, I fell down this hole, can you help me out?” At which point Joe jumps down in the hole too. “What you doing?” the man asks, “Now we’re both in the hole!” “Yeh,” replies Joe, “But I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.” Most of us, at some point or other, find ourselves in a hole. The kind of hole may vary: its depth, the angle of its sides, its width or narrowness, may be unique. Nonetheless, we find ourselves in holes, sitting in darkness of some kind or another. The story of salvation laid out in the Jewish and Christian scriptures up to the point of the nativity is the story of God doing what you’d expect a friend to do: sending help. Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many others, men and women, whom God sends to help his people see the light. But in Christ, God does the unexpected. In the birth of Jesus God jumps down into the hole itself. God refuses to remain remote. In the birth of a baby God enters into the messiness of the world. An unmarried mother, a fiancé who refuses to call off the wedding, farm workers kept apart from their own people by the rules, and foreigners from well outside the faith community: it is these who, in the stories told of that amazing birth, play a vital part. It is these who show the darkness into which the flickering, glorious light comes shining. And the world God enters into in Christ is still dark. We still find ourselves in holes. Maybe you can see it in your own life. If not you can certainly see it on the news. Yet, while the darkness remains, while those steep sides seem as unclimbable as ever, the light remains also. The darkness has never, will never, overcome it. That mysterious, glorious light that first shone out as the eternal, almighty, self-sufficient God entered the world as a baby, “little, weak and helpless”, is still with us. No matter how deep the hole is, no matter if our eyes are so closed in pain that we cannot notice its presence, still the light comes to us. It comes to us in the cry of a newly born baby, the cry of anguish upon a cross, and the speaking of a name by an empty tomb. It comes to us in bread and wine, the helping hand of a stranger, the quiet whisper of a friend who may not understand what we’re going through but will not desert us to face it alone. The Word became flesh, made his home among us, and walks with us still, his light and glory available to all who walk in darkness, that we might walk through the darkness knowing we are not alone. For Immanuel, God is with us, both this night and forever! Amen.
Whatever you are doing this Christmas, whether it is a time of high joy or deep sorrow, may you travel with the blessing of the Light that lights the world.
The Nomad*This story appears in “Noel”, the Christmas episode in the second season of The West Wing, and is told to Josh Lyman, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff who has just been diagnosed with PTSD after being shot, by his boss and mentor, Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict.