Christmas Eve Midnight, 24th December 2017
The Most Rev’d Geoffrey Smith, Archbishop of Adelaide
Isaiah 52: 7 – 10, Luke 2: 1 – 20
Christmas comes around every year and one of the very predictable features of this time of the year is the annual complaint of how busy we are, how stressful preparation for Christmas is and how much money we spend. Many of us question the amount of effort that goes into Christmas Day. After all it’s just one day of the year-only 24 hours.
Yet we spend so much time and money shopping for gifts. So much time planning the food and the decorations and the seating plans and the activities.
So much energy trying to organise relationships and relatives so all will be happy, or at least make it through the day without too many squabbles.
The effort and energy that goes into the 25th of December is incredible. In fact, it is probably the most effort many of us put into to any one day of the year.
A report I heard this week said that South Australians will spend around 615 million dollars for Christmas this year. That’s a lot of money.
In many ways it doesn’t make sense-all that for just one day.
And many of us each year tell ourselves ‘next year it will be different’, but for most of us nothing changes. And that’s not because we are poor at keeping promises to ourselves, or get caught up in the community hype or the advertising traps. There is something else going on.
Maybe we go to all the effort and expense we do because deep down we sense something precious in Christmas. Something beyond the food and the gifts and the parties and the decorations.
Maybe those things are our attempts to have what we cannot seem to grasp but instinctively know is very precious.
Maybe in the birth of Jesus, in that act of love from God, that act of pure love we sense hope, and we know we need hope.
We sense love and we know we need love.
We sense peace and deep rest, and we know we need those too.
Despite all our best efforts at commercialisation and secularisation there is something deep in Christmas that remains and we somehow sense it.
The human heart yearns for love and peace and rest and we feel out of sorts when we are not experiencing those things.
Christmas speaks of love and peace and rest more powerfully than any other day of the year and that’s because it celebrates the birth of Jesus. The child born in an ordinary situation but in extraordinary circumstances.
The child who would grow up to model and offer what is needed for all humanity.
The child who as a grown person would offer love from God, peace with God and each other and ourselves, and deep rest that comes from knowing we are loved and knowing we are at peace.
Christmas speaks to this deep deep need. And even if we are not very religious or have many questions and doubts we sense it and seek it.
The Bible readings for tonight highlight some of this quality of Jesus.
The first reading from the prophet Isaiah looking forward to the coming of the messiah says: ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined’.
How often do we feel like our life has areas of darkness, sometimes our life can be dark, and yet there is light. In Jesus light has come. The darkness of human lives has begun to be taken away.
In the second reading, the story of the birth of Jesus, the angel tells the shepherds; ‘do not be afraid; for 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’. Good news of great joy for all the people. And that’s Jesus.
Maybe the reason we put all the effort we do into Christmas day is because we sense in the birth of Jesus something not found anywhere else or in anyone else. And we know we need that something. And in our celebration and all that effort we reach out for that missing sense and try to hold it. Because we are hoping that somehow all the effort is not just for Christmas day but is for a much longer time.
Maybe we yearn for Christmas every day. Not so much the overeating and drinking part, or the max out the credit card part, or the wrangle the relatives part, but the hope of the possibility of love and peace and rest that the birth of Jesus Christ offers.
The poet WH Auden wrote a poem during world war 2 called For the time being: A Christmas Oratorio. It’s a magnificent though long reflection on the birth of Jesus with great insights.
For instance, the poem has the first wise man as he follows the star towards the birthplace of Jesus say: ‘to discover how to be truthful now Is the reason I follow this star’.
The second wise man says: ‘To discover how to be living now is the reason I follow this star’.
The third wise man says: ‘to discover how to be loving now is the reason I follow this star’. Then altogether: ‘to discover how to be human now is the reason we follow this star’.
Auden’s poem says of Jesus: Because in Him the flesh is united to the Word without magical transformation….. Because in Him the Word is united to the flesh without loss of perfection…. Because of his visitation, we may no longer desire God as if He were lacking: our redemption is no longer a question of pursuit but of surrender to Him who is always and everywhere present. Therefore at every moment we pray that, following him, we may depart from our anxiety into His peace.
That last line is great: therefore at every moment we pray that, following him-following Jesus, we may depart from our anxiety into his peace.
As is often the case our deepest longings can be trusted. Christmas day is worth all the effort.
What Christmas says to all people is so precious and valuable. It is truly good news for all people.
God loves us and longs to bring us connection with him, knowledge of his love and presence, peace that is deeper than anything we have experienced. And our time of Christmas need not end this time tomorrow night.
The opportunity is to take that sense of Christmas and make it real for our lives.
Our opportunity is to move beyond that sense of Christmas and to find its source. To find Jesus and in him peace and hope and rest not only on Christmas day but all year round.
To take Christmas day into the hard times and the flat days and the frustrating experiences that are a part of all years. So that we don’t only have a Christmas day but a Christmas life.
And that’s possible as we reach out to Jesus, to pray to him, follow him and connect with him in our life. We might be more than 2000 years beyond the birth of Jesus the Christ but we can still welcome him, celebrate him and know him. We can reach out to him because he is with us.
May Christmas this year be the start of something new that we might take Christmas beyond the 25th of December and in Jesus find the love and peace and rest that is good news for all people that all of us can enjoy. May we have not only a wonderful Christmas Day, but a wonderful Christmas life. In Jesus name. Amen.