As I am on a medical leave of absence I did not preach at St. Matthias, Victoria this Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – but the Reverend Canon William (Bill) Morrison did, and here is what he had to say:
“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem, and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”
And so the shepherds came to Bethlehem, to the town whose name, Beth-lechem, is Hebrew for “House of Bread.” There was no glorious sight for them to see, no mind-boggling spectacle. No. Hidden away in that House of Bread they saw a baby, a baby less than ordinary, cradled in a poor stable. But, with eyes of faith opened by the word of God made known to them, and with hearts trusting in the God who will redeem his people, they saw, in that baby less than ordinary, the Saviour of the world, come to dwell among them
And now it us our turn to come to Bethlehem, to come to our Bethlehem, our House of Bread, here, at the Lord’s table. Here again is no glorious sight for us to see, no mind-boggling spectacle. Here is only bread, bread less than ordinary, cradled in our poor hands. But, with eyes of faith opened by the word of God made known to us, and with hearts trusting that God does indeed come and dwell with us, we see, in this bread less than ordinary, the Saviour of the world, come to dwell in us.
Such is God’s love, to give us “heaven in ordinarie,” God the Word-made-flesh made bread for us, to nourish our souls, to inebriate our spirits, to make us alive with God, to build his House of Bread in us, that, as he dwells in us, we might dwell in him.
Let us then come to Bethlehem, to God’s House of Bread, and taste and see how gracious the Lord is.
My favourite part of Christmas has always been the Christmas tree, especially at night with its lights all aglow. At home, from the time I was seven or eight, it was me who decorated the tree. I would take great care getting the lights just so, so that there would be no dark patches in the tree, rearranging bulbs so that there wouldn’t be two bulbs of the same colour next to each other. At night, after the tree was decorated, I would make some finishing touches so that it looked just right; and I could sit for hours looking at it.
The Christmas tree, with its lights shining in the darkness—because it would not do to have other lights on in the room, they spoiled the effect—had a beauty, a mystery, a “presence” that was somehow just right for Christmas. Things were quite different in the austere light of day. The tree looked lost, bare, exposed, revealed for what it was, a few thin branches hung with some wan looking baubles. It looked a little forlorn, like it was waiting for the night to come again, for it to return to its element, the atmosphere in which it “shines,” metaphorically as well as literally. Christmas, it seems to me, is made for what Dylan Thomas, at the end of A Child’s Christmas in Wales, calls “the close and holy darkness.” The story of the child born in a manger, and angels appearing to shepherds in their night-time fields, is a story to be told in the darkness, by candlelight, the way we did last night.
But the austere light of Christmas morning calls us to a bigger landscape, to look beyond the stable and the manger and the shepherds and the angels, and the cosy feeling of being nestled together in the “close and holy darkness” of Christmas Eve.
The daylight is for the cosmic sweep of “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The day is for “In these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.”
The day is for words like “incarnation” and “paradox” and “mystery”—not of the kind of mystery shrouded in darkness but of the kind enveloped in unendurable light. And, Bruce’s favourite, “kenosis,” God’s self-emptying.
The day is for remembering that what we are celebrating is not the birth of a baby, but of the birth in time of the timeless Son of God. That in this birth all the great ontological opposites—heaven and earth, God and humanity, eternity and time, feeble sinfulness and the over-arching perfection of truth, goodness and beauty—are reconciled and brought together—made one—in this child, this man, who, though one person, is both fully human and perfectly divine, the human and the divine utterly distinct yet absolutely inseparable.
The day is for hearing that in Christ God becomes human so that we humans may become gods. That God emptied himself and came down to earth to live life as we humans know it, so that we might be filled with all the fullness of God and be raised up to heaven, to live with him, in him, in God, forever.
The day is for remembering that the birth we celebrate is, paradoxically, our birth; that the mystery we celebrate is that in Christ God gives us “power to become children of God, born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.”
The day is for falling on our knees before the truth that, with the birth of this child, with the incarnation of God in human being, God and human are now forever one, no longer distinct and separated, but one. This is the day for remembering that in Jesus, the human incarnation of God, born in the stable of Bethlehem of Mary his mother and now raised from death to new life in eternity—in him our humanity is forever conjoint with the Godhead, the divinity now human, the humanity divine, the risen humanity of Christ forever before the throne of God interceding on our behalf to the Father of lights, in whom there is no shadow of darkness.