Vicar's Sermon - Christmas Eve Midnight 2017
‘Driving home for Christmas’ produced way back in 1988 never did reach the dizzy heights of number 1 in the charts but the track gets a resurgence every year and presumably the royalties from the song being played over and over on the radio keep Chris Rea in small change.
Millions hit the roads at Christmas time. Friday was meant to be horrendous. Car drivers were told to expect heavy traffic. Travel by train probably involved a measure of discomfort as every seat tends to be booked and carriages fill up with people’s luggage and passengers standing in the aisle. Airports too will have seen larger volumes of passengers – some admittedly escaping a traditional British Christmas for something more exotic but many simply wanting to ‘get home’.
Are you at home for Christmas? Where is home anyhow?
Mary and Joseph would have preferred to be in Nazareth but were told they had to go home – to Bethlehem, a place that hadn’t been home for generations. Their arrival in the City of David coincided with that of more relatives than they thought they could possibly have had – everyone who was descended from the house and lineage of David, all in one place at one time. And so they found themselves in an enormous ‘Davidic convention’ where the six degrees of separation disappeared entirely as strangers discovered a common ancestor in their family trees….but this was hardly home and my guess is that Mary would have preferred to have been somewhere else, somewhere more familiar.
No room at the inn. Whether you take the translation to mean an ‘inn’ as we understand it, or some relative’s spare room the result is the same: ‘you’d better make do amongst the crush and the busy-ness’. All of us know what this feels like...when we see our needs bumped down the pecking order to make room for others’. It’s hard not to have our noses put out of joint. We’re grateful for every act of kindness – the manger, the hay, the warmth from the animals – but it’s difficult to get passed the discomfort, the sense that it shouldn’t be this way, that there is no room…and you are the one who is on the edge of things, not the centre of anyone’s attention in particular. You’ve been ‘accomodated’, which is different to being made to feel at home or welcomed. Pictures of the refugee camps on Lesbos come to mind – overcrowded, filthy, cramped, unhygienic, not really fit for animals yet ‘home’ for those who have dared to want to escape war in Syria or persecution in Iraq, fundamentalism in Afghanistan.
You’d hope to find a welcome at home but it’s not guaranteed. Our reading this evening reminded us that ‘He came to His own, but His own received Him not’. This time last year Jeanette Winterson wrote a Christmas piece in the newspaper describing her last Christmas at home. It had not gone well. Her mother a rather fierce Christian lady who couldn’t cope with the fact that her adopted daughter had come out as being ‘gay’. When she had decided to adopt a child her mother had ‘prayed for a miracle’ wrote Winterson ‘but she couldn’t see that I was it.’ There was a welcome ...of sorts, but then it all went pear shaped and the two women never saw each other again. How awful. How sad. Winterson went on to write:
Sometimes the thing we long for, the thing we need, the miracle we want, is right there in front of us, and we can’t see it, or we run the other way; or, saddest of all, we just don’t know what to do with it. Think how many people get the success they want, the partner they want, the money they want, and turn it into dust and ashes – like the fairy gold no one can spend.
And it seems that is what happened with Jesus, the Christ. The miracle His people had prayed for actually happened…and they missed it, they didn’t know how to respond to it, they couldn’t make room for it. The One who had been present to them as the light of all people is born and lives in the world that he has made…and yet the world does not recognise Him, the world ‘knows Him not’.
Thanks be to God for the word ‘But’.
For despite the repeated slamming of doors in the face of the Christ despite our human tendency to make sure that no-one invades our space, to retreat alone into the only space we feel we can control (our hearts and souls), Jesus comes again and again, and asks to be welcomed in. ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock’ he says ‘I am still here.’
But to all who received Him God gave power to become children of God.
Suddenly we are no longer alone. And we need not be alone. We have a brother in Jesus…and a Father in His father. We have one another. A curious bunch of relatives its true, and as with all relatives there isn’t a selection policy applied (or at least, we are not part of it): the Christian church manifests itself in a myriad forms but this child unites us as family. Which perhaps accounts for one of the many wonderful things that happen on this night each year wherever Christians meet which is that we feel ‘at home’. ‘At home’ in this story. ‘At home’ in this place. ‘At home’ with one another whether we know each other’s names or not. As we create a space for Him in our lives, a place He can call home we find that we come home to God our Father: and there is no better place to be at Christmas.