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

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Sermon Christmas Midnight Mass 2017

In the Church of the Shepherds' Field, Bethlehem. Photo: Matthew Duckett

Isaiah 9.2-7
Titus 2.11-14
Luke 2.1-14

The shepherds are told that the Messiah has been born, a saviour who will bring peace on earth.
Why peace? The Romans thought that they had brought peace to the world, and we were reminded at the beginning of the reading that the Romans were in charge of everything. A decree went out from Caesar Augustus, uprooting whole populations and causing huge inconvenience for a bureaucratic exercise in determining who belonged where. But it was still a world at peace.
But it was a peace that was the absence of war. It was imposed peace, and anyone who thought about getting uppity, claiming regional independence or anything like that, was quickly supressed. When the Romans conquered and defeated warlike tribes beyond their borders, they said that they had “pacified” them: made them peaceful.
So it’s peace at a price, peace on Rome’s terms, enforced by the army. If the messiah brings peace, into that world, it has to be a different kind of peace.
What, then, is the peace that God sends into the world with the birth of this child?
What would we do if we were God? That’s a question that people often ask, particularly in times of crisis or suffering. Why does God allow this? Or if we hear of some violence or abuse, we might ask why doesn’t God protect the innocent, why doesn’t God intervene to stop people acting wickedly?
But that is to invent a god in our own image, like Caesar Augustus, who claimed to be divine. His peace was imposed by force. But the peace that the God and Father of Jesus Christ sends into the world is quite different.
What do we see? What image is presented to us? A child, and not any child but one born in improvised conditions, in poverty and vulnerability and risk. The place of his birth is seemingly determined by the arbitrary acts of an emperor far away, but in truth was determined by God from all eternity, to take place in just this way.
What do we see, after that? The child grown, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Rejected by the authorities and the powers that be. Followed by a rag-tag of disciples picked up in a provincial backwater, disciples who constantly fail to understand him. A man betrayed and deserted by even these disciples. A man imprisoned, bound, condemned, mocked. A man on a cross.
Those are not images of power, or control. The Son of God does not seek his own way by force or coercion. In the end, no-one is with him, and he completes his mission alone and in darkness.
If anything, these are images of failure. They are certainly total abandonment, letting go of everything. But if the peace of God does not come about by force, then this has to be the way. Letting go, alone, creates the space where God can act. For the peace of God is not the absence of war, but something much more dynamic and creative. It is the creative space, the dynamic emptiness, where God is acting to do a new thing, to bring about his kingdom.
The messiah could only be born in poverty, and on the margins, for he has come to reverse the normal order of things, to bring the marginalised and poor into his kingdom.
The messiah could only be born to be rejected, and to die. For in his total self-emptying even to death, he made absolute space for God to act, bringing life out of death, a new creation out of the ruin of the old, revealing the resurrection, making possible the kingdom of justice and peace for all.
The peace of God begins with faithful letting go. The was why it was first made known to the shepherds who had nothing. God cannot act in us unless we make space for him. He doesn’t need much. In the bleak midwinter, a stable place sufficed. In our hearts and lives, he does not demand great palaces made fit for a king. Just let him in, give him a corner, and he will build the palace himself. For the place where the messiah, the saviour the Lord, chooses for his home, cannot be called anything less.
The peace of God is not imposed peace, but creative freedom. It is not the silence of the grave, but the song of new life. It is not holding on, but complete letting go, so that God can hold us.
This then is the peace that Jesus brings. The coming of this child does not enforce an end to suffering, which still goes on. But this child does bring peace by being the creative place of letting go where God can act. And that peace we can know too, and we can only know, by finding that place of letting go and emptiness in our hearts and lives, and asking him to be born there. He longs to be with us. He will turn away no-one who comes to him.

Peace. Not what we impose or can enforce, but what God will do in us if we make room for him. And, when the peace of God is living in our hearts, then it will flow into our lives and our families and our communities and our world. Not by force or power, but by making room for God to act. By letting go, so that Jesus can be born in us.

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