Tonight we have come together to hear again and celebrate a love story. Not a Mills and Boon kind of love story, not a Jane Austen or Diana Gabaldon kind of love story, not the ‘Love Story’ which starred Ryan O’Neill and Ali Macgraw (though that was a good film) but the love story we are hearing and celebrating tonight is the love of God for his creation – and the offspring, the outcome, of that relationship of love, is Jesus Christ. What’s really good news in all of this is that we are all, without exception, beneficiaries of this love.
Even since it happened over 2000 years ago, people have found this love story unbelievable in every sense of the word. Many have accepted it. Some have rejected it. Others have struggled with it, struggling especially to find words to describe something that is so big that it sounds impossible. At the same time it is so simple and revolutionary – which make it seem incredible. Tonight we have come with our beliefs, our unbeliefs, our questions, our curiosity, our hopes and our fears, our joys and our sadnesses to gaze again at this beautiful, vulnerable baby.
Poet John Betjeman expresses the mixture of wonder and disbelief so well in his poem ‘Christmas’ when he writes:
And is it true? And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea,
Become a Child on earth for me?
2000 years of Christian faith has been celebrating the truth of this event. And it’s not only us in this church in Dunster that’s celebrating – for some years I was a vicar in Zambia, central Africa and in my ministry I have had the privilege of travelling to many parts of the world and to some places where the church is facing dreadful persecution. I can confirm that this faith is alive and very well in all these places. In the middle of persecution, maybe in the middle of our own pain and darkness, tonight this love story is being re-told, re-membered and celebrated. But how can this celebration affect our lives?
Being beneficiaries of God’s love for creation means that there is something within each of us that is indestructible because it is of God. And this indestructible reflection or imprint of God encourages us to live life as fully and deeply as possible. No matter what happens to us, no matter what heights and joys we reach in life, no matter what depths, sorrows and pain we encounter, no matter how young or old we are, nothing can remove from us that reflection of God, that encouragement to live as fully and deeply as possible that is within us all. It is always there. But God never forces himself upon us, it is for us to access and activate……or to ignore. It is in our hands.
Sometimes a crisis or celebration draws it out. If we see a complete stranger collapse on the street, we automatically help them if we can. If a friend or family member is going through a difficult time, we like to support them if we can. If somebody is celebrating, getting married or having a birthday, we want the best for them and want to join in the partying. All these actions stem from that reflection, that imprint of God within us. There are some who put their own lives at risk in order to support others facing danger. We saw this in the London Bridge attack less than a month ago, when two young people were killed as they were trying to support former offenders. Others risked their lives in disarming their attacker. Again, this stems from that indestructible reflection of God within us which encourages us towards life.
But living life fully and deeply is not always an easy option. Here on Exmoor we have many fast-running rivers and within those rivers are beautiful brown trout. In order to feed, the trout have to face and swim upstream in order to catch the insects and food that the water is washing downstream. In other words, if the trout are going to eat, if they are going to live, if they are going to thrive, they have to swim against the current. Swimming against the current can be a real struggle. So, too if we are to live fully and deeply, there will be times when we need to swim against the current. We swim against the current when we recognise that life can be found in places, in situations and in people where people around us would not expect to find it – and often in people pushed to the edge of society because of their background and their beliefs. The birth of Jesus Christ is a prime example of this. God being found in the vulnerability of a child, in an unknown place and with shepherds, who were society’s rejects, being the first to visit the newly born Jesus Christ, the offspring of God’s love.
So tonight, as we hear again this love story, celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and the fact that within each of us is something of God that encourages us to live fully and deeply, we are again given the opportunity to get in touch with and activate this life. And this life is not just for Christmas but for the whole year. In wishing you all a Happy Christmas, I end with some lines from 17th century poet Thomas Pestel. (Christian Poetry, p.198):
Glad shepherds ran to view this sight;
A quire of angels sings;
And eastern sages with delight
Adore this King of kings.
Join them all hearts that are not stone,
And all our voices prove,
To celebrate this holy one,
The God of peace and love.
Readings: Isaiah 9.2-7;Luke .2.1-14
St. George’s Church, Dunster, Somerset. Midnight Mass 24th December, 2019.