Midnight Mass Sermon 2012

I don’t know whether you are ready.

I do know that this year, for me, the cumulative effects of coming back from sabbatical just recently and then succumbing to one of the nasty bugs that has been going around the city at the end of last week, has meant that my pre-Christmas rush this year seemed to be condensed not simply into a couple of days but a couple of hours.

Cesar Augustus may have decreed that everyone was to return to their own town to be counted for a census, but this year the Provost of St Mary’s has decreed that henceforth, all Christmas Cards shall be known as Epiphany Cards and that everyone who receives them shall be grateful.

In short, my planning has gone a little awry.

Thus, I found myself at lunchtime today in one of the nearest shops to where I live. It is a greengrocer and I had to decide that most of my Christmas food shopping this year was going to be bought right then and right there or not be bought at all.

As I bundled veg into my basket, the proprietor looked at me and raised an eyebrow.

“Busy?” he asked curiously.

Oh yes, I replied, you wouldn’t believe it.

Now, this man knows I’m a priest and knows that I’m connected with this church, which he knows only as a building up the road.

Oh yes, he said, “Christmas. We don’t celebrate that, being Muslims.”

I asked him if the shop would be closed on Christmas Day. “Oh yes,” he said, “What we do is close up, have a get together, cook some nice food, think about God and wish one another a merry Christmas”.

“But we don’t celebrate Christmas as we’re Muslim.” he said again.

He then went on to ask me what kind of church this is and then immediately said, “So what do you think of the Pope?”

I took a deep breath before I decided that it was neither the time nor the place for the answer I might have given and changed the subject back to the season and wished him a very happy Christmas.

But it is worth dwelling on his earlier answer for a minute. “We don’t celebrate Christmas, being Muslim – we just get together, eat a good meal, think about God and wish one another a Merry Christmas.”

It is an answer that is worth turning over in your head once or twice in the next 24 hours. Whether you are going to be with other people tomorrow or prefer to be on your own, think about my Muslim grocer.

I’ve found myself thinking about him ever since. How come he could be so serene and get the Christmas spirit so right? For he seemed to have nailed what I’d like to think my Christmas should be about even in the midst of frantic panic to get things ready.

Here we are together. Here we are celebrating a meal. Here we are – thinking about God. And then we’ll wish one another a Merry Christmas and be on our way.

My Muslim neighbour reminded me today to think about God in the midst of all the hurly burly of getting ready for the big day. It was a surprising place to hear about God, but God is in the business of surprises, as a certain  maid from Nazareth might tell us tonight if she were not suffering labour pains at this late hour.

In thinking about God, I realised that no matter whether I’m ready for God or not, God is ready for me.

The essential truth of Christmas is that God has come into the world and can be, no! will be known in surprising places and at surprising times.

God is in the world and is ready for us whether we are ready or not to be with God.

I’ve no doubt that Mary and Joseph were not ready for the birth of the Christ child – how could they be in a borrowed room so far from home. Yet God was uniquely with them.

I don’t think the shepherds can have been ready for their angelic visitation up there watching their flocks by night. Yet they were the first to worship the babe in Bethlehem and went rejoicing in the angel’s message from God not to be afraid, no matter what happened to them.

The Magi certainly were not ready for what they encountered. They went searching for God and expected to find God in somewhere grand. Instead, they met the great revelation that God was embedded more in the potential of a vulnerable child who needed to be cared for and nourished than in the power-politics of an intemperate tyrant like Herod.

God is in the world already. God is revealed in surprising places and at unexpected times. If we doubt that, we should remember that God has form.

There is barely any mention of God in the scriptures where God comes in the time and place that people expect.

Right now, we are together here in this holy place.

Right now, we are sharing a meal together.

And right now we can think about God.

The news is good. So good it sets ever angel atremble with excitement.

The news is this:  God is in the world already. God loves us already. And that baby is coming right now.

Ready or not. Amen.


  1. Susan Sheppard Hedges says

    Thank you, Kelvin. Happy Christmas!

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