Christmas is here – this silent and holy night. We are here together in this lovely church to be still before a great and mighty wonder. On this holy night God spoke one word, which was his Son. And the word was made flesh – and we have come to worship and adore him.
Spread out before us is this beautiful crèche, lovingly made from olive wood by woodcarvers in Bethlehem. I love to just stand and gaze at it – with wide-eyed wonder, like a child. I love the shepherd at the end, playing the pipes. And the shepherd gazing at Jesus, while gently and with immense care and affection, holding his sheep. And right at the far end the straggler camel, coming behind everyone else. And there, right in the middle, the beautiful figure of Joseph, with his hands cupped, looking at Mary and Jesus with adoration, amazement, wonder.
The whole crèche together, with its rocks and its steep climb, speak to me of how arduous the journey was. But they came because they wanted to see with their own eyes! “Let us now go to Bethlehem,” said the shepherds, “to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” “We have seen his star in the East,” said the Wise Men from the East. So they came on the long and dangerous journey to see with their own eyes – to see and to gaze.
And we, too, each one of us, has come here tonight to see with our own eyes: to see Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. We have come to see, to gaze at the word made flesh, to bow down, to worship and adore him, who is Christ the Lord.
What we see touches our hearts in different ways. We bring our hearts to the Christ child just as they are. Hearts filled with memories, experiences and desires. Hearts bursting with joy – divided hearts – broken hearts. Our hopes, our fears, are met in him tonight. For me tonight, I feel so close to members of my family – far away in England – and to especially my father who died a few years ago. For tonight heaven and earth have come together.
Each one of you, who have made the journey here tonight, what do you bring, what do you bear? What is on your hearts this night? What joys and sorrows, yearnings and desires? Hopes and fears?
This is a hard time to celebrate Christmas – or at least the make-believe shopping mall Christmas of jolly music and relentless good cheer. That is not the world we live in.
The heart-breaking events of Newtown have touched us all, and reawakened our own losses and grief. But tonight is not make-believe. Jesus really was born into this world – a flesh and blood fact that never goes away. The child lying in the manger tells us wonderfully and marvelously that God is with us: God Emanuel, in all his vulnerable glory, is with us. And that is a cause for profound joy and hope.
Christmas is not about the arrival of a new philosophy, nor of a new religion, but the arrival of a person – a person who stands with me and holds me and strengthens me – whose words and actions and sufferings make sense of my life – and can transform my life with a love which is stronger than death – a love which will never let go.
And tonight we are invited to the manger – to come and see. Those shepherds, keeping watch over their flock by night, were despised and shunned: the lowest of the low. Unable to keep the detailed ceremonial laws, they were considered impure, in a continual state of sin. Yet it was to them that the angel first came: to invite them to come and see – to see the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in the manger.
And each one of us, whoever we are, however unworthy, or sinful, or unprepared we feel, however broken or divided or confused our hearts may be, we are invited, just as we are, to come to the manger, to come and see.
And something happened to those shepherds. They came, confused, unworthy, and fearful. They gazed at the Christ child, and their hearts were changed. They came to Jesus and were blessed and transformed by him. They returned with hearts on fire with love, glorifying and praising God for what they had seen. What happened to them? Our founder, Richard Meux Benson, put it like this: He wrote, “None can come to Christ at Bethlehem and go away as they came. Our coming to Christ changes everything, and we return to the old scenes with changed hearts and new powers.”
Tonight, on this holy night, we are, each and every one of us, invited to come to Christ – just as we are – to bow down and adore him. To offer our hearts to him: our hearts, be they divided, torn, broken, fearful – that he might heal them, and change us and bless us, and send us home on fire with love, glorifying and praising God for what we have seen. Offer your heart to him.
The poet Christina Rossetti writes:
“What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
Yet what I can I give him – give my heart.”
On this holy night may your hearts rejoice and be glad.
May you and your loved ones have a truly holy, joyful and blessed Christmas.
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