Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Midnight Sermon

The fourth lesson today comes from the letter of Mr Noddy Holder to Top of the Pops. The whole book.
And notice how many questions there are. From the enquiry about your Christmas traditions - are you hanging up a stocking? To the questions about the origins of Santa - does he ride a red-nosed reindeer? Does he turn up on his sleigh? Will the fairies keep him sober for a day? Then the worry about party - do you have guests? The room at the inn - will you have room for all your relatives? And the speculations about the weather - will it snow? And of course the treble pun - will you get Slade, sleighed or slayed?
We all sing songs at Christmas without noticing the lyrics.
So the trouble is that this problem - not listening to what we are actually singing ourselves - is true of some of our carols too. A parish priest, asked in the late eighteenth century by his congregation if they could possibly sing some carols at Christmas replied that they could, but should wait until he left.
Lowly cattle sheds? We don't know that. Jesus had a sweet head? The Bible is silent on the matter of the adorability of this baby. Christian children all should be, mild obedient, good as he? You're having a laugh now right? Whether it's holly or three ships, or jingling bells all, in Christian tradition, are contrived to draw attention to the main focus of this event. The mid-winter festival becomes, for those who want it to be, a celebration of the miracle that the man who saved the world was once a vulnerable child. To quote another song press-ganged into use as a Christmas metaphor - he's just a poor boy from a poor family.
So as we make our cribs today there may be some things in it that are surplus to the biblical records. In the film Love Actually there was a part in the nativity for a lobster. In one I attended recently the narration was done by a bat hanging from the rafters of the stable in Bethlehem.
We make a Christmas pudding of the story. We chuck everything in and mix it around and hope that what comes out will be tasty.
Because the Christmas story is not reliant only on the early parts of Luke and Matthew's gospels for its sense. If you read them you will find they are quite thin on the ground.
What they are reliant on is the end of those and also Mark and John's gospels. For nobody would have remembered what the carols correctly describe as this 'humble birth' if it wasn't for the well-publicised events at the other end of Jesus' life. The carol that describes him as 'born to die' got it right - yet that is the lot of all of us from the moment of our birth. It is the gospel - literally a word that means 'good news' - message that Jesus who was born, lived, taught and died is still alive that is world-shattering.
It may shock you to know that we can have very little certainty in the events surrounding Jesus' birth as historical facts. This man was no ordinary man says the New Testament and so, working backwards, he was no ordinary teenager, no ordinary child, no ordinary baby, had no ordinary birth and had no ordinary mother and father. Some Catholic traditions take things back further even than that.
And we are not asked questions about that today. They are as unanswerable as Slade's questions about Santa. We are asked the question the carol says the shepherds asked. 'What can I give him?' 'Lamb' is the rather dull shepherd answer - it is a bit like getting socks off your aunty or me giving you copies of my books. One of my relatives used to give everyone a fridge thermometer for Christmas. He was the wealthy MD of a company that made them. Skinflint.
The carol says we have only one thing worth giving to the one who came, not necessarily down, from heaven. Our hearts.
Will you walk on with this small Christian community to Lent, Holy Week and Easter with your heart in your hands?
We may not like thinking about atrocities at Christmas although world events sometimes make us. We may not be up to it but God is down to it. Because, in the words of the prophet Noddy, the baby is going to get slayed.

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