Midnight Mass Sermon

Tonight, let this be the stable. Let us close our eyes to the gothic cathedral in which we sit. Let us see the stable, not the soaring gothic arches. Tonight, let us listen again anew to the story. Tonight, let us look again into the manger and see for ourselves that the good news is true – the Lord of the ages is born this night for all of us.

Tonight, let us smell the hay and enter the stable. Let us greet Mary and Joseph and join with them in promising to protect the new child – our strangely vulnerable new king.

Tonight let us mingle with the shepherds and join in their gossip – angels have been heard this night singing God’s praises and all the hills are full of their music.

This is the night.

Tonight, the child is born, and we see him laid gently in the manger in this Christmas Crib.

For many centuries, it has been the habit of the Christians throughout the world to set up a Crib – to remind young and old of the details of the Christmas story. It is said that it was St Francis who first set up this Crib scene in order that people could worship the child just as though they were in Bethlehem.

Since then, the custom has spread throughout the world and we are a part of it this night here in St Mary’s.

And as this habit has spread, it has become common for things to be added to the crib – things have often been added to the crib scene which are not recounted in any biblical scene. There are no animals in any of the Christmas stories – there are shepherds, sure enough, but no sheep in the stable, nor ox, nor ass nor camel, yet our story would be the poorer without them – for this child who is born is the king of the universe – the whole of creation represented by the animals, the whole of creation is redeemed by the birth of this baby.

In some countries, people take the addition of characters to the crib a lot more seriously – I remember seeing a display of Polish Crib scenes which were very glittery affairs – they looked nothing like a stable in Bethlehem – instead, the holy family, Mary, Joseph and the child could be found in scenes based on the local town hall or cathedral or another recognisable public building. It was strange to see the child being born in Warsaw town hall. And round the crib, as well as shepherds there would be local politicians and celebrities. Strange to see modern figures. Yet why not?

For the news this night is not simply that a child was born in a stable long, long ago. No, the child is born this night for all the world in every place and time. Placing the holy family in the local town hall tells us a remarkable truth – the good news is not that Christ has been and gone. The good news is that Christ has come and entered the world and is here with us now, in every place and for all time.

The good news at Christmas is that this child is born for all of us – to bring the peace that we pray for, the healing which we all need, to bring us joy and to fulfil the hopes and dreams of humanity. The good news is that Christ is here – God is with us.
The stable can be found all over the world. Christ must be born tonight in the Bethlehem of today, surrounded by its cruel new walls. And Christ must be born in occupied Iraq, in powerful London and Washington, in troubled Afghanistan.
That child must be born this night where the message of the angels needs to be heard. He is born, born in every troubled state and in every troubled town and in every troubled heart.

The hopes and the dreams of all the ages rest on the gentle head of a child in a manger. We all know that new born babies need a lot of care and attention, and so it is with God. The Lord of the Ages is vulnerable and needs our care. He needs our attention and our love. If we will enter the stable at Christmas time, we may find ourselves holding that child and carrying him with us into the months and years ahead.

Tonight, let our hearts be the stable. Let him be born in us anew. Tonight, let the king of kings come to us and let us hear the sound of the angels singing “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All”.

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