Midnight Communion Christmas Eve 2016 - John 1
Christmas - Morrisons makes it…
Have you seen that advert? It’s quite a bold claim really, but of course, we know what they mean. They mean that if you don’t shop in their supermarket, your Christmas will be diminished, incomplete, your Christmas puddings will go flat, the turkey no good and Christmas generally unmade, like Tracy Emin’s bed. Or am I reading too much into it?!
But seriously, we do try to make our own Christmas, don’t we? We make lists, we go shopping, we buy presents, send cards, we think of others and ourselves, and we try to decorate our houses and furnish our Christmas Dinner with the best we can, knowing that hospitality is next to Godliness. And also perhaps that hospital is next to overindulgence… We bring outdoor plants into our houses and we put lights on them. Strange, isn’t it? Since Prince Albert did it in 1841 we bring extra light into our homes at the darkest time of year by hanging lights on a tree. It looks pretty, of course, and adds some much-needed illumination at this dark time of year.
But this is how we make Christmas, and Morrisons, bless ‘em, want to help. Of course, they do. And in return, we help their profit margins. Such is the symbiotic relationship of the commercial Christmas: folk want to spend money, and shops have profits to make. Meanwhile PC World have invited us to ‘Get it right’ this year. One up on Morrisons, perhaps, who want to make it for us. PC World think we can get it right (with their help of course). Oh they are so helpful, these ministering angels of artificial light. Mind you, John Lewis want to show us a bouncing dog, who takes over his girlfriend’s trampoline. What’s that all about?
But I wonder, what really does make Christmas? Is Christmas something that we, or even Morrisons can make? How can we ‘get Christmas right’? Is Christmas ours to make something of?
Some people say we live in what’s called a post-modern age, in which everything is there for the taking: we can adopt or reject any aspect of anything and meld it into an experience, an opinion, a worldview. And these can be contradictory: that’s OK. So we can care about migrants, but not want them to come here, for example. With a postmodern mindset, opposites can hang together, albeit uneasily. Similarly it is easy to hold together the secular, commercial Christmas and the spiritual, Christian one, even if they may conflict ideologically. The 21st century mindset is fundamentally moulded and governed by choice, freedom, personality. And this expresses itself most obviously through the pastime of shopping, both literally and metaphorically. Literally - well that’s obvious. But we also shop for ideas, for things to believe or not believe, attitudes to have, and we sometimes want the best of both worlds, we trolley around a supermarket of ideas too. I shop therefore I am: Tesco ergo sum.
And that’s how it becomes possible for Morrisons to tell us in a matter of fact way, that they ‘make Christmas’. Christmas is out there for the making, and indeed, those of you who have come here have ‘made’ Midnight Mass part of your Christmas. Well done - congratulations- thank you. It is truly a joy to share this holy night with you.
Christmas, is after all, on almost every level, however you make it, about sharing. Such is the gospel according to Morrison’s great rival, Sainsbury’s. And we share together tonight, in the communion of singing and worship, in the communion of companionship, and indeed in the communion of the bread and wine which is - in some mysterious sense - the body and blood of Christ, the one who both died on the cross and rose for us, but who was also the babe of Bethlehem, whose birth we sing about constantly between mid-November and February. By being here tonight, you have made Christmas begin with Christ. His name does begin the word after all, Christ comes before the mass celebration of our own making.
And yet, the celebration of this Mass tonight, is not of our making, but of God’s making. God invites us here, to join him, for he is with us, here and now. ‘Emmanuel’ actually means, ‘God with us’. Look out for that name in the carols. And as soon as we call God: ‘God-with-us’, we enter into a new relationship of intimacy with him. By calling him Emmanuel, we recognise that he has committed himself to live in solidarity with us, to share our joys and pains, to defend and protect us, to be one of us and to suffer all of life and death with us. In all this, he is the light in our darkness.
He is with us, as St John so beautifully puts it, as the light of the world. The light that shines in the darkness. The light symbolised by the white candle of the Advent wreath which I’ll light in a minute. The light that truly ‘trumps’ the Christmas tree lights and all the candles. The light indeed, that trumps everything and everyone.
And it is this light that ‘makes’ Christmas. God makes Christmas - God makes Christmas a celebration of light at the darkest time of the year and in the depth of the midnights of our world. The midnight of Syrian conflict, the midnights of our souls, the midnights of our lives, loves, griefs and fears. It is our mass midnight, but to our midnight mass, God sends Emmanuel - Christ - God with us - the babe of Bethlehem.
In deep midnight, we have mass - a word which describes not only our fellowship, en masse, as it were, but the meal which we share - the supper of the Lord. The baby in the crib who will offer himself in a blaze of light - not just Christmas light, but Easter, resurrection light. Christmas Midnight communion celebrates Easter too: birth, death and resurrection all come together on this holy night.
So this is Christmas and what have we done? – as John Lennon put it. Well, Christmas is about what God has done, about how God made Christmas. And it is how he makes it still, year in year out. He sends us the renewal of the light of hope, the light shining in the darkness of our midnight world, in the midnight of this hour, and in the midnight of our fears. So it is when we sing that carol:
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
That is how God makes this Christmas and every Christmas. We bring our fears, and in faith and light, God turns our fears to hopes.
So this Christmas, may the fears of the world be turned to hope for the world. May your fears for yourself be turned to hope. And may all the darkness that threatens to envelop us in doom and gloom be illuminated now and always by the everlasting light of the Christchild, Emmanuel, God with us, forever.
Happy Christmas! Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, December 24th 2016