Summary: A sermon for Midnight Communion on Christmas Eve, acknowleding the end of Advent and the beginning og Christmas
When I look back to memories of Christmas past, particularly memories of Christmas of childhood, I always find that I remember Christmas Eve more than I remember Christmas Day. Perhaps it is the sense of build-up and expectation, the sense of excitement about what is almost here. That is certainly the case in our household, where this is the first Christmas that our eldest son has really been interested in, no doubt inspired by the carol singing and nativity at his school.
Christmas Eve as we finally tip over into Christmas Day is a special time. At this moment we are on the cusp between expectation and celebration, between darkness and light, between Advent & Christmas. For those who have been waiting, whether a child for its presents, or a faithful servant for their Saviour, the time of waiting has come to an end.
Advent has always been marked by this spirit of expectation and longing, of waiting for God to step into his world, to intervene on behalf of his people and it is this that we celebrate in his holy night – the birth of Jesus, the birth of our Saviour, the birth of God’s Son.
Our readings from Isaiah and John speak of Jesus’ birth – one looking at it as a past event, one looking at it still some centuries into the future. They speak of his birth as a culmination of prophecy, the plan of God beginning its next stage. Not a random act, not a random birth that God decides to use, but a planned event. The prophecies of Jesus birth speak of his coming as a time of action, and a coming of a King. The rod of the oppressor has been broken as a child is born with authority on his shoulder,. He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
The expectation that surrounds the coming of Jesus is not just expectation but anticipation, and anticipation presumes an expectation of action – freedom from justice, oppression, a sense in which all creation groans in longing, in waiting for freedom – a process which begins here.
Every year as we celebrate together on this night we remember what happened 2000 years ago, and we celebrate with Mary & Joseph and with the Shepherds as we move from that period of expectation to that period of great celebration – celebration so great that we don’t just give one day to it in the church, but twelve, and so great that we celebrate it every year.
This night is also about a move from darkness into light, words echoed in the prophecy of Isaiah that ‘the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.’ Jesus has many names, some of which from Isaiah we have already heard, but we could so easily add to the long list the name, ‘Great Light’.
John’s gospel begins with the coming of Jesus and with the testimony of John the Baptist, whose role was to testify to the coming light, the ‘true light’ (the Great Light) ‘which enlightens everyone’, and which ‘was coming into the world’. John the Baptist’s role was to point people not to himself but toward the light, toward the Great Light, Jesus. Life came into being, and in John’s gospel the Son of God is there when that life comes into being at the creation of the world. In fact John doesn’t focus at all on the nativity of Jesus, because that is not his priority. His priority is the adult Jesus, his status and his role. These words which begin his gospel, often read towards the end of carol services, strike at the heart of Jesus as part of God’s plan, not just from his birth, but as being God himself come to us on earth the Word that was with God from the beginning, the Word that was God, through whom nothing has been made.
In Jesus is life, and that light is the light of the world. This is no ordinary birth of an ordinary child. But an extraordinary event of huge planetary significance which affects us all, even many, many centuries later. We are here this evening solely because of that one event, but an event that exists within a complicated timeline of God’s plan for us all and for his world.
For many the period of celebration ends tomorrow, even though the period of merriment goes on for much longer, but the celebration of the birth of Jesus began with his birth, continued through his life and even his death, was invigorated by his resurrection, and even though Christmas itself wasn’t celebrated until about the second century, the Church has always remembered and retold the story of Jesus, born to Mary & Joseph, of humble parents.