Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Sermon Christmas Midnight Mass 2015

It is the middle of the night in the darkest time of the year; dawn is a long way off. And yet the prophet Isaiah 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”. And the angel says to 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. You have a Saviour. Which is something that, perhaps, we never even knew we needed. What is it that we need saving from? And what will the Saviour bring instead?

The immediate response of the angels to this news is to sing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!”

Peace on earth and glory to God. Those two things go together, and they are bound up with the salvation that this child will bring.

Peace on earth may seem to be a very distant idea in the world of today.
And yet the Bible tells us that Jesus came to bring a peace that will never end. Where can we find this peace?

Our readings tonight all speak of peace as something new and different, a change from the normal order of things.  Isaiah says that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Because of that all the old things that have caused them suffering will end:  “the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood”. All that will end, because a child is born for us, a Son is given. And the peace that this child brings is like light after darkness.

St Paul writing to Titus has a similar sense of leaving behind the darkness and entering the light, in this case renouncing what he calls impiety and worldly passions so that we can “live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly”.

And our gospel sets out for us the world into which Jesus was born: the Roman empire, proud and mighty, violent and oppressive. Everyone, even in Judea, is subject to the decrees of the Emperor in distant Rome. In this case, a land registration, which is known to have happened at around the time that Jesus was born.

Everyone who had a claim to ancestral lands had to go in person to the land in order to register it with the Romans. Registering the land of course is about power. The people in charge are not those who have lived in the land for generations but the distant overlords who will come and write it all down in their registers.

So, the world into which the Saviour is born is a world of oppression, violence, war, the domination of one people by another. It is a world in which people are marginalised and cast out. It is a world ruled by passion and impiety. That is, by desires that are out of control, and that have no reference to God as the common Creator and Father of us all.

It is a world, in other words, in which people do not relate properly either to God or to one another. The relationships have all gone wrong. It is a world of spiritual darkness, in which people cannot see how to live. Violence, possessiveness, rivalry, envy, all these things disorder our relationships, both with one another and with God. And all these are aspects of what the Bible calls sin.

This, then, is why we need a Saviour. We are trapped in our disordered desires and attachments, which the Bible calls sin, and so estranged from God and from one another. The results of this estrangement are not hard to see, from the wars and conflicts that terrorise whole regions of our planet, to broken relationships closer to home, all arising from our disordered desires that turn us in upon ourselves.

So it is indeed good news of great joy for all the people that the Saviour has come, and he is the Messiah, the Lord, the one promised from of old by the prophets and now at last born in the fullness of time.

Jesus, even from the first moment of his birth, restores the relationship between God and humanity in his own person, for he is both God and human in perfect unity. And what he is by nature, we all can become by grace, children of God, reconciled with God and with one another.

This is where peace on earth begins: in Jesus, the human being who is at perfect peace with God because he and the Father are one. This is where peace on earth begins for us, too.

The peace that Jesus brings is the peace of union with God, a reconciled and restored relationship. God is our creator, the source of our being; we were created to share his life for eternity. It is Jesus who opens the way and makes that possible, cancelling out the tragic legacy of human sin. It is Jesus who makes us one with God and gives the Spirit of God to well up like a fountain of living water in our hearts.

Peace on earth begins there, but it does not end there. We need to get the foundational relationship right, to be reconciled with God through Jesus. But that enables the peace of God to spread through our relationships with one another. Being forgiven, we become forgiving. Being reconciled, we become reconcilers. The Church is not the community of good people, it is the community of forgiven people. We are being saved in Jesus, and that makes us want to draw others into that salvation, too.

Jesus, the Saviour, shows us that we are loved. Loved beyond our imagining by the God who called us into being out of sheer generosity, and whose desire is for us to share his life. Even after we have sinned and gone astray he calls us back to himself, and opens a new and living way in Jesus his Son.

That love, that generosity, are how we are to live. This is what God is like, so this is what the children of God are like, too. Which is why Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, to do good to those who hate us. Because this is what God has done for us in Jesus.

Good news, of great joy, for all the people. We have a Saviour. The love of God has come to meet us in person in Jesus Christ, and in him light and peace have indeed shone in this darkened world. Tonight he offers that love to us once more, inviting us to open our hearts, to let Jesus be born in us, so that we can be reconciled and forgiven. So that we can come home to the love and peace that the Father announces to all people this night.

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