Midnight Mass Sermon 2015

So where did you learn the Christmas story? Where did you first hear about the baby in the manger?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since a sermon that one of my colleagues preached earlier this year in which he suggested that in fact more people know about the story of Bethlehem from the film “The Life of Brian” than those who know it from the bible.

This is a particular achievement here in the City of Glasgow as the Life of Brian was banned from cinema screens for 30 years.

I remember when I first heard about this 30 year ban asking someone who had lived here then about it.

He claimed to have seen the film when it was first released. “But how did you see it when it was banned in Glasgow,” I asked.

“Oh,” he said, “you had to travel to see it. You had to go to the fleshpots on the edge of the city… places like Bearsden”.

Anyway, I’m sure that it is true that a lot of people do know about the nativity story from a film which was all about a neighbouring boy, Brian, being mistaken for Jesus.

Say anything about the coming of the Messiah amongst a certain generation and you are likely to get the response, “Oh, he’s not the Messiah, he’s just a very naughty boy”. And that applies to talk about Jesus as the Messiah. Or any Messiah. Or even a performance of Handel’s Messiah.

It was a film that was promoted with the tagline: “A motion picture destined to offend nearly two thirds of the civilized world. And severely annoy the other third.”

Yet the judgement of the self-righteous has mellowed somewhat over the years since it was first on show in cinemas all over the world (except in Glasgow). Time has scattered the proud and the haughty in the imagination of their hearts

This year there was a theological conference on the Life of Brian with an collection of worthies rightly realising that the film was a satire on those who get the wrong end of the stick about religion not particularly a satire on those who do love the Lord.

And yet there’s still plenty who do get the wrong end of the stick when it comes to understanding what religion is all about. People still often think religion is there to stop people having fun when the very opposite is true. And it is the birth, not so much the death of the beloved child of God who allows us always to look on the bright side of life.

For the birth of the Christ Child marks a moment when the world could never be the same again. A moment when all the angels sang and all of heaven danced for joy.

For the birth of the child tells us that God has come into the world and is interested in what it means to be like us.

Rather than Brian being confused for someone divine, someone divine became one of us. God got all muddled up with being human. So much so that words themselves were not enough to speak of what had happened.

For the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.

Words were never going to be enough. Only life was enough.

And so God came amongst us in the form of a child.

Tonight we celebrate that birth and in doing so we celebrate that life. We celebrate that God loves us in the dark times. That’s why we always mark this moment at midnight I think – when the world is darkest we celebrate that light will always win out. But this moment also marks a time when we know that God loves us when things are going well too.

That’s the point. God came to earth – came to live one of our lives here on earth and knows, profoundly knows what it is like to be here.

Knows hurts and sadnesses. Knows joys and delights.

And the truth we proclaim here is that God’s coming into the world means that God knows you too.

Knows you and loves you. Whoever you are and whatever you think of yourself – you are utterly and most profoundly loved. Christmas means that that’s fundamentally who you are – someone who is loved completely.

When we sing out carols at Christmas we are collectively sharing our joy that God became one of us. And the stories tell us that we are only adding our voices to a heavenly choir that sings at the birth of the babe. Announcing it to shepherds on the hills. Disturbing the sleep of Magi even yet on their way to worship. It is a birth that upsets the tyrant and yet comforts the poor and the lonely. A birth that meant that the world would never be the same again

And all this focussed on the image of a child in a manger. A new-born child who does not yet speak or teach. Does not yet heal or preach or raise the dead.

Just a babe in a manger who represents the enormous truth that you are completely loved.

I have no idea what kind of boy he grew up to be. Scripture is mostly silent on his childhood apart from one incident when he seems to have run off from his parents. But I do know that he’s not just a very naughty boy. This one actually is the Messiah. And he loves you very much indeed.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


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