Midnight Mass 2014 Sermon for Glasgow

Where does the light of Christ most need to shine?

A long time ago on the first holiday that I went on with a friend rather than my parents, I travelled partly by train, partly by boat and partly hitchhiking, to the Orkney Isles. And one of my strongest memories of being there was crawling through the narrow entrance of the great Neolithic Maeshowe cairn. Built probably nearly 5000 years ago, my friend and I sat in the gloom of the interior hearing that the whole edifice was aligned so that the light of the winter solstice sunset would shine down the narrow passageway and perfectly illuminate a stone in the interior.

And of course, it still works. Nowadays people try to capture the same effect and spread it around the world using webcams.

But what were those who built the cairn trying to say?

The truth is, we don’t know. Was the sun itself the focus of what they were doing at midwinter or was the sunlight being caused to shine onto something stuck in some way on that stone?

What did they want the light to shine on?

Sometimes you see guidebooks of Manhattan with pictures taken of the sun setting perfectly behind the skyscrapers as though they had been built for that very purpose.

And Great Western Road itself, outside this cathedral, aligned as it is, works just as well as any stone cairn at predicting the rise and fall of the sun.

Will archaeologists in 5000 years wonder at our devotion in laying out the West End of this city to align with sunrise and sunset?

Will they presume that what we built was aligned to the light?

Will they wonder where we wanted the light to shine?

Where do you want the light to shine this year?

Once again we come to Christmas with a very public tragedy in our minds. Things hard to think about. Things difficult to contemplate.

People do ask me whether it is hard to speak of the love of God when difficult things happen.

Well, it is sometimes hard to find the right word but the truth is, the love of God coming to illuminate the darkest of times is what we always celebrate at Christmas no matter what year we are in and no matter what has happened. The light comes into the world. That is the truth we gather here to proclaim right at the darkest time of year.

It is the truth which made the angels sing. It is the truth which made the heavens ring.

God is come into the world and the fact that we celebrate that at night has always meant a lot to me.

We gather at night to remind ourselves that the light shines in the darkness and that the song of the angels matters – for they sing of peace on earth.

We gather at night to remind ourselves that God’s coming makes a difference and the peace-prayer of the angels is a song we can dare to sing for ourselves.

We gather at night to remind ourselves that nothing is impossible with God, and the song of the angels is the song the world needs to hear.

The song is “peace to God’s people on earth” and it is as catchy as Charpentier’s Noels that we are enjoying tonight.

Where does the light need to shine this year. Do you know?

I know that you do.

You know the hearts and the places and the situations where peace on earth is needed most.

And in gathering here in the night-time, the story of the light coming into the world, the song of peace on earth becomes our story, becomes our song.

That’s why we do this.

God came to Bethlehem to become someone who would weep with those who suffered and walk alongside them in their troubles.

God came to Bethlehem.

God comes to Glasgow.

We know where the light needs to shine. We know places and people who need God’s peace.

Don’t forget that Bethlehem and Glasgow are twin cities.

Tonight as we remember the light of the world arriving in Bethlehem, ask yourself where you want the light of Christ to shine. Who needs to know God’s presence. Who needs to hear the angel’s song of peace.

Whoever it is, remember them in this holy place tonight.

Our gospel reading tonight reminds us that our first sight of Jesus, the babe in the manger was hardly the first time God cared about the world. What began there had a greater beginning – for in the beginning itself was the Word.

God has always loved us. In the stories and songs of Christmas we get to retell and replay in our minds a narrative that also tells us that God already loves us.

Go from this place tonight knowing that God loves you.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

And God came. Light shines. Love is real. And a peaceful world is a birthright and a destiny and a manifesto for everyone who draws breath.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

We know all about darkness. But the light has come. Love is here and love is real. For where there is human life there is love. And where there is love there is God.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. Did not overcome it in Bethlehem. Will not overcome it in Glasgow. Will not overcome it in any place at all. Amen


  1. All our thoughts and prayers to the people of Glasgow with reference
    to the recent tragedy,and on a personal level ,prayers of favour and Grace to the staff and Ministry of St Mary’s for Christmas and the New Year.

  2. Meg Rosenfeld says

    From San Francisco, where it is currently 10:11 a.m. on the Feast of Stephen, I wish you and all the folk of Glasgow a peaceful and loving remainder of the 12 days!

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