Midnight Mass Sermon

Most years at around this time, the same story appears in the press. A couple of years ago, I had a call 2 days before Christmas. It was a Sunday paper ringing to “just ask a couple of questions”.

They were apparently ringing round a load of ordained people and asking them whether they believed in the Virgin Birth. There were 2 possible answers they were looking for – either yes, or no, as though either answer could possibly explain the subtlety of what people actually believe.

No doubt they have been ringing up a lot of clergy, who would have been delighted in this, one of the busiest weeks of the year to be answer questions about doctrine from journalists.

The headline they are looking for when they run this story is that – so many percent of clergy don’t believe in the Virgin Birth.

The story is as traditional as Christmas Trees, turkey and mistletoe – each an essential part of the Christmas story.

This year the hapless Archbishop of Canterbury got into just such a story by describing, quite correctly, some of the elements of the Christmas story as being legend. Do you believe, they asked him. Yes or No?

Those who ask such questions have it wrong from the very beginning.

For the truth is this – that it does not matter much how you believe. Whether your faith is literal or symbolic, whether your faith is historical or contemporary, whether your religion is based on something certain practised week by week or practised on an angel’s wing and a prayer at Christmas – no. What matters is what we proclaim to be true this night.

On this night, the greatest of nights, we proclaim this truth – that God is with us. And the way that you get to that realisation matters little in the end.

The question is not whether we believe the Virgin Birth – Yes or No or whether or not we believe there were three kings in that stable alongside an ox and an ass. No, what matters is whether God is with us. Whether God is with us in all things.

The truth that the church proclaims, is that God is with us. And that is a rather extraordinary notion. If it is true, it means that God is with us in all things. If it is true, it means that God is with us in all the things that we face. Hard things as well as joyous things.

If it is true, it means that God was standing beside the prisoners being tortured in the Guantanamo concentration camp. If it is true, it means that God holds the hand of the midwife accused of witchcraft and unable to bring hope to her community. If it is true, God stands alongside all those denied justice in the year gone by. If it is true, it means that God rides the tube train when wicked bombers climb on board. If it is true, it means that God’s hand is still held out for food in Darfur as we sit here in prosperous Glasgow. If it is true, then God is even to be found in the church as Christians tie themselves in painful knots over their inability to deal with being the people whom God himself created.

And if it is true that God is with us in this world in all those kinds of situations, then it is true that God is with each of us too. God is with us in the personal. God is with us in our homes. God is with us in all the hard times that we each have. And God is with us when there is celebrating to be done.

On this night of nights, we proclaim the truth, that God is with us. And as we do so, we look to the future with confidence. We know that God will be with us if we work for peace. We know God will be with us if we proclaim justice for the poor. We know God will be with us when we are kind to the unlovely. And we know God will be with us when we share friendship with those for whom we care too.

For we know that God cares for us. Cares for us enough to become one of us. Cares for us enough to join in. Cares for us enough to get involved.

Bethlehem is not a long time ago. Nor is it far away. On a night like this, we gather around the cradle. A diverse community. A gathered community. A group of people looking into the manger-hay with hope rising in our hearts.

For if we peer into that manger, the light of the world will be reflected on our own faces and we can journey further on our human pilgrimage confident of the fact that God is with us.

In the Christmas story, we follow all kinds of human stories. An awestruck young woman. A generous young husband. A frustrated busy innkeeper. The dirty shepherds on the hills. The majestic sight of the kings coming from the East to worship. All human life is there at the crib. All human life is here tonight.

All God’s goodwill for humanity was poured into the baby in the manger. All God’s goodwill for humanity is poured out for us right here this night.

I do not know how you believe. I do not even know if you do believe.

But this night, I proclaim to you good news. Not just peace on earth – there is still work to be done on that project yet. Not just glory in the highest heavens – there are songs of praise still to be sung. Not just startled shepherds and puzzled kings – for there are others still to be gathered into God’s kingdom.

No the good news I proclaim to you this night is this – in all we face, in all we do, God comes as Emmanuel.

The truth is this.

God is with us.



  1. What a wonderful event….the Cathedral….. ‘glowing’, the pews….. well-filled, the sense of awe…overwhelming, the joy…evident, the congregation….with a good spread of ages,…..who says the Church is dead!!

  2. Thank you for a great way in to Christmas, Kelvin. Harry’s comments are well founded. Enjoyed the Bishop’s alternative option of “Why not ?” response to such “Yes or No” questions ! Merry Christmas !

  3. A wonderful set of services over the Christmas festivities – Nine Lessons and Carols (on Sunday evening), with all the usual favourites and other less known from the Cathedral Choir; Midnight Mass, when we got the chance to sing the last verse of O Come and an attendance which required additional chairs at the back; and the Morning Eucharist with the sermon from the Primus.

    A wonderful time was had by all; however it did seem sad (but satisfying) turning the lights off and leaving an empty building after Midnight Mass. Sad because the building was in darkness on such a night of celebration, but more importantly satisfaction from knowing that many had left with joy in thier hearts having been uplifted by the service.

  4. Andrew CJ says

    Perhaps ‘syndicating’ your sermons would be good for the church universal.

  5. “In Mary God has grown small to make us great.”
    St. Ephrem (d. 373)

    Christmas blessings from one Anglican blog to another
    Bosco Peters

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