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Friday, 25 December 2015

Christ, the ending and beginning of all our journeying

This is my sermon from Midnight Mass at St Stephen Walbrook:

Journeys feature heavily in the Christmas story. There are the physical, geographical journeys of Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register in the census, the rather shorter journey of the Shepherd from the hills surrounding Bethlehem to the manger itself, the lengthy journey of the Magi following the star via Herod’s palace to the home of Jesus, and the journey of Mary, Joseph and Jesus to Egypt following the Magi’s visit.

Then there are the emotional and life journeys that the characters in the story make. For Mary the journey of pregnancy and birth following her submission to God’s will at the Annunciation; the journey of carrying God himself in her womb for nine months while enduring the disapproval of her community. For Joseph, there is the journey from what was considered right in the community of his day – a quiet divorce – to the realisation that to do God’s will meant standing by Mary despite the local disgrace and scandal.

All these journey’s, and others, bring us to the birth of Jesus; the birth of the new thing that God was doing in the life of our world and the new thing that he was doing in the lives of these people. What can we learn from their journeys that will help us in our own life journeys?

None of their journeys were easy. Even those with shortest journey, such as the Shepherds, risked disapprobation and even the loss of their livelihood, for leaving their sheep to worship Jesus. The Magi, no doubt, had a lengthy and uncomfortable journey not knowing exactly where they were going and nearly being seduced by Herod into contributing to the death of the child they sought. But for Mary and Joseph their journey was most difficult; the worries of carrying a full-term baby in the full glare of public disapprobation, an uncomfortable journey just prior to birth, and the pain of birth in an unsuitable and uncomfortable environment far from home.

God does not promise us that the experience of being part of the new thing that he is doing is ever easy but imagine the joy and wonder of the moment that Jesus is born, when Mary holds this precious, promised child for the first time, when the Shepherds come bursting in with their tales of Angels singing glory to God and the Magi come bearing their gifts, and all who come, come to worship the child that she holds. No wonder the story tells us that she pondered or treasured these things in her heart.

This child, both God and human being, was born to save humanity for our sins. God’s new act to rescue a fallen humanity; God doing a new thing in our world to demonstrate his love for each one of us.

Like the shepherds and wise men, we have journeyed tonight to celebrate this birth. Our physical, geographical journeys may, like those of the Shepherds have been short, but the life journeys that have brought us here tonight may well have been lengthy and hard. Like Mary and Joseph, those journeys may have involved disapprobation or scandal, the worry and pain of birthing and caring for children, like the Shepherds our life journey may have risked our livelihoods or like the Magi have involved a lengthy search for truth that has included looking in and leaving the wrong places.

However we have come tonight, the possibility remains for us to experience the new thing that God has done in our world through the birth of his son, Jesus. The good news about which the Angels sang on that first Christmas night was peace on earth, goodwill among human being; a peace that comes as human beings receive forgiveness from God for all the wrong and torturous journeys we have had, the actions and decisions that have hurt us and hurt others. We know now that we can be forgiven because God has come, as a human being, to be with us, to experience all that human life involves and, ultimately to die to save us from our sins.

This is the new thing that God has done in our world. It is this that came to birth at Bethlehem. It is this to which all our journeys lead. Will we, with Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and the Magi, this Christmas kneel and worship this child, Jesus, God with us, the Saviour of our world, the ending and beginning of all our journeying?


Franz Schubert - Mass No.3 in Bb Major, 2. Gloria.

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