Christmas Eve – “Midnight” Communion
Monday 24th December 2018
Christmas Eve – “Midnight” Communion
Hebrews 1. 1-12
John 1. 1-14
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
So here we are again! How are you getting on? With all the preparations, I mean. Is Christmas all wrapped up for you? In particular, have you wrapped up all your presents? Or are you planning a mad half-hour or so when you get home from here? Oh there’s still time to wield the wrapping paper and the selotape; ribbons and paper bows; still time to write the gift card – “a present from….” who I wonder? Santa? Father Christmas? … God?
Why, after all do we persist in this crazy ritual of giving each other presents? All the added stress it imposes! Wracking your brains to think of a suitable gift for Aunty this or Uncle that? And what about those closest to us? Have we spent enough for them to know how we truly feel? Will they like the gift? Or on Boxing Day will they be investigating how best to swap it for something they would really like?
We give each other gifts for two reasons I suppose. The first is that at Christmas we remember the visit of the Magi – those mysterious astronomers from the East , coming to search out the new king whose birth they had seen heralded in the night skies…. Except that in our nativity story, the wise men or the kings (call them what you will) have yet to arrive…. They will not present their gifts to the New Born King until Epiphany on 6 January – just as we are dismantling all the decorations and the trees for another year! And in some countries it is this date that is the signal for the main giving of presents as a result.
Hmmm, I wonder what Mary and Joseph really thought of their gifts at that first Christmastime? Gold, frankincense and myrrh are all very well in their own way of course and highly symbolic; gold for kingship, incense to show that Jesus would be a great prophet; myrrh to signify the sacrificial nature of his eventual death and that he would bring healing to many…; maybe not the most obvious of gifts for a newborn? I wonder if M & J thought of exchanging them for something more useful?
Just as well they had no recourse to Ebay in 1st century Palestine!
But I think the real reason we give each other presents at this time of year is not just to do with the Magi, but with the gift that God himself gives to each and every one of us. The gift of himself in the form of the Christ Child. Little and vulnerable, but also powerful and priceless. The one who would bring Salvation to all.
And you don’t have to pay anything for this gift – God has already paid the price. You don’t even have to be particularly good – No ‘nice and naughty list’ kept here, although I am sure God hopes that you will be a better version of you because of his gift.
No, all you have to do is believe. Because as John tells us – to all who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.
So that just about wraps up the Christmas message for this year… except to say that I think it is significant too that we like to wrap our presents up. I am not at all sure that the Magi wrapped their gifts – the bible seems to suggest they just opened up their treasure chests and presented the items as they came. No paper, no bows, no tinsel.
No, I think it is because God’s great gift came wrapped up tightly and securely. For nine months he was wrapped in the body of his mother Mary. And then, after his birth and following the custom of the time, Mary – we are told – wrapped her baby boy in swaddling bands before she laid him in a manger.
Well babies are still swaddled in some places and cultures. The theory is that – having been confined in the safety and security of the womb, birth can come as a bit of a shock…. Suddenly all that freedom! So by swaddling the child, you give it a sense of safety and security and keep it calm and happy. I guess it works for some!
But anyone who has cared for a small child will also know that – when all the wrappings are removed, they love to wriggle and kick and squirm – relishing the freedom of movement, even if only for a little while.
So later today/tomorrow, as you remove the wrapping paper from your gifts – the wrapping that has been lovingly and patiently applied, and as you liberate the precious gift that lies within, just remember to unwrap the greatest gift of all.
God is waiting for your response. He hopes you will be delighted beyond measure when you see for yourself the gift he has given you. A gift that will stay with you your whole life long. A gift – Salvation – that will even follow you through the gate of death to life beyond.
Just don’t forget that Christmas must be unwrapped too. Merry Christmas!