This sermon was preached by Rev Sue at the midnight service on Christmas Eve.
Tonight is the night! We have done the last-minute shopping and wrapped the presents. We’ve started to prepare tomorrow’s dinner. We’ve put out the stockings with a carrot for Rudolph and a mince pie for Santa. The children have been persuaded to bed. Last sleep before Christmas. Hoping for good things tomorrow.
Tonight is the night! It has been a long and exhausting day, but the Mary and Joseph have found some shelter. It’s only a stable, but at least it’s dry. Joseph has piled up some hay and borrowed an old cloak to spread on top. He asked around and managed to buy some bread and cheese for supper. Mary is feeling a twinge or two of pain. It won’t be long now. Hoping for a safe delivery and a healthy baby.
Tonight is the night! Isaiah predicted it long ago. He lived in a time of war, People would wake in the night to find foreign invaders in their houses, robbing, murdering and raping. People lived in perpetual fear. The government was in disarray. And yet Isaiah saw this night coming, when the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace himself would come and save them. There would be a time when not only would conflict cease, and people would live safely in their homes, but there would be true peace, the harmony of a nation obedient to a wise and loving King. The people believed Isaiah, preserved his writings, and hundreds of years later they were still waiting in hope.
Tonight is the night! The shepherds were looking after the sheep as usual. The wealthy owners were tucked up in warm beds next to their wives. The night shift was a cold and dangerous time. Robbers, wolves, lions – they slept at their peril. They were not ones who expected much, the dirty, smelly labourers. And yet, in an instant all had changed. An angel was there, dazzling them with a sudden light in the darkness. He was saying something, but they were too scared to take it in. To you is born… a child. The familiar words of Isaiah. Suddenly they were a part of history. They listened carefully the second time – they the poor and despised were being given a major role. Go to Bethlehem and find the baby, the one sent by God to save us! More angels, whole choirs, singing about peace on earth. Off they went to look for the little boy. I wonder who looked after the sheep. Hope fulfilled.
Tonight is the night! We have left our warm homes, surrendered a good night’s sleep and come once again to worship the Prince of Peace. We, too live in troubled times. The threats are different, but still real. The country is divided. The climate crisis worsens and we feel powerless to change things. Alongside the public troubles we have our own griefs and regrets. We, too need, peace in our lives, and peace in the world. A tiny, fragile baby is the best that’s on offer. What were his chances of survival – born in the horse’s stable and sleeping in the trough? No antiseptic, no midwife. Yet that flickering flame of life grew strong and bright. With Isaiah, with the shepherds, we must nurture the hope and protect its flame from the draughts. And there, in our hearts, we will find the peace we need. The peace of knowing that we are loved and valued. The peace of surrendering our agendas to the one whose plan is for the whole of creation. The peace of being forgiven and forgiving others. The only place the healing of the world can start is here, with us, with all the other people who long for goodwill and peace on earth. One step at a time, one heart at a time.
It’s Christmas, so you won’t mind me telling you a story you already know. It happened In December 1914, during the first world war. It was Christmas Eve and the German and British troops were out on the battlefield, each group in its own trench. The night was cold, and the soldiers huddled together. Then suddenly the British heard the strains of music. The German soldiers were singing Silent Night. The British men couldn’t help joining in in their own language. And somehow, they found themselves singing Christmas carols to each other across the lines.
When the dawn came some German soldiers came out of the trenches and started walking toward the Allied lines through no-man’s-land. They called out “Merry Christmas”, in English, the language of the enemy. The British soldiers wondered whether it might be some sort of trick, but when they saw that the German soldiers weren’t armed, they too laid down their guns, climbed out of their trenches and walked toward the enemy. The two sides met in the middle, and began shaking hands and introducing themselves, one to another.
They spent that Christmas Day together in peace. They played a game of football together and they even exchanged small gifts – things like cigarettes and Christmas pudding. They sang more carols together until night fell and then they all returned to their own trenches.
The next morning the war once again continued, but for that Christmas Eve and Christmas Day there was peace…
Be the peace you wish to see in the world, and others will catch the hope and join in. A young, unmarried, mother, a loving but puzzled husband, a tiny baby and some unkempt shepherds. Not a promising start. But 2000 years later the story is still told and the hope still burns bright.
Tonight is the night! He is here with us now.
Let us pray that this Christmas Christ will enter once again into our lives and fill us with peace and hope. In the words of the carol
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today. Amen