Christmas Eve: Are you sitting comfortably?
SERMON – CHRISTMAS MIDNIGHT 2018
The Rev’d Dr J. Hugh Kempster
Let me tell you a story. Are you all sitting comfortably?
Then let’s begin.
One good day, the Son of God, enthroned in heaven, wanted to know how things were going on Earth. Like in the old myths, He mounted a celestial ray and reached the Earth, Melbourne in fact, a few weeks before Christmas. He assumed the form of a street sweeper. No one noticed him as he cleaned up everyone’s mess. That way He could better see the people passing by; he could see them pour into the brightly lit department stores, filled with things ready to be wrapped as gifts. But he particularly noticed those who didn’t go into the shops; those who were walking around with tattered suitcases, not well dressed; many of them looked hungry and were begging. He became very sad because most of the shoppers totally ignored these people. He realised that the words He had said so long ago had become largely forgotten: “who receives one of these children in my name, receives me” (Mark 9,37).
He also saw that few people spoke any more of the One who would come, secretly, on the night of the Nativity to bring a gift for each and every person; the gift of salvation. His place had been taken by a good natured old man, dressed in red, with a long beard and carrying a sack, who would constantly call out the silly refrain: “Ho, Ho, Ho, Santa Claus is here”. Yes, he was in the streets, and in the great stores, taking from his sack gifts for others. He even turned up at Office parties. But everyone had forgotten another old man, a really good one, with a similar name, but so different: Saint Nicholas of Myra. He was from a wealthy family, and on the Nativity he would hand out gifts to the poorest of children, saying that it was the Christ-child who sent it to them. No one seemed to speak about all that any more. They only talked about this “Santa Claus” invented a little over 100 years ago.
As sad as seeing the ignored poor people on the streets, was seeing how frenzied the others became as the days passed, more and more seduced by the glitter of the gifts, and the merriment of the Christmas parties. The Son of God, quietly sweeping the streets, came to realize that everything the angels sang that night so long ago, the song that echoed throughout the fields of Bethlehem, and down through the centuries, that song meant very little any more: “see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord … ‘Glory to God in the highest and peace on Earth to people of good will’ (Luke 2:10-14).
Shiny material things had replaced the Love of God; the joyfulness of God was replaced by shallow pleasures; the contagious self-giving of the child-King, had been replaced by self-seeking. Sad, He stopped sweeping, and mounted another celestial ray. But He had decided to leave something behind: a letter for the children. Every child in the City found a crumpled old letter next to Santa’s glittering presents. The letter said:
Dear little sisters and brothers:
After you have opened the presents, go and look for a manger this Christmas. There might be one in a church near your house. Ask Mum and Dad to take you there. Look closely at the manger together. You will see there the Christ-child, with his parents Joseph and Mary. I will be praying that you are all filled with faith in God as you look; faith in the great King of Heaven who made Himself a child, a child like any of you; he is your God-brother who is always with you.
Then, when you see others, especially those who are poor, or sick, or sad, see if you can see the hidden presence of the Christ-child being born in them. And in the adults too. See if you can help the God-child, hidden in your parents and other grown ups, to be reborn; so that from all of you will come love, tenderness, caring and friendship at Christmas; instead of lots of meaningless shiny gifts.
When you see the manger, with Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds poorly dressed, remember all those people in your City who are equally poorly dressed. You might find yourself hurting deep in your heart because of this injustice; and this might make you want to share what you have with others; it might make you decide to change some things in the world; so that never again will there be so many people hungry and ignored at Christmas.
When you see the Three Kings bringing gifts to the Baby Jesus on the Epiphany, you might one day find enough courage to remind even Prime Ministers, and Premiers, and other important people to see like you do the greatness hidden in this small Child crying in the hay.
When you see the sheep, the oxen and the donkey worshiping the Christ-child, you might suddenly realise that the whole universe is also illuminated by this God-light; and that everything, the stars, galaxies, stones, trees, fish, animals, and all of us human beings, we all form the Great House of God.
Then listen carefully, and hear through your inner senses, the soft celestial music, like that of the angels over the fields of Bethlehem, who announced peace on Earth.
Then you will know that I, the Son of God, am being born again; I am again renewing the Nativity. And never forget, I will always be near, walking with you, crying with you, laughing with you; until the day when all humanity, all the universe, arrives at the House of God, and is welcomed into God’s reign of justice and love.
Signed: the Christ-child
Bethlehem, December 25, year 1
Slightly adapted from a story told by Brazilian theologian, Leonardo Boff (1938- ) <https://leonardoboff.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/the-materialism-of-santa-claus-and-the-spirituality-of-baby-jesus>