Vicar of St Peter Mancroft Church, Norwich, shares his homily Evening News carol service
PUBLISHED: 10:50 24 December 2014 | UPDATED: 10:50 24 December 2014
As we prepare to remember the true meaning of Christmas, Canon Peter Nokes, vicar of St Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich, shares the homily he preached at the Evening News carol service.
You may have seen a Christmas card which depicts the Magi kneeling in front of an empty crib. Mary is shown pacing up and down at the back of the stable with the baby crying on her shoulder.
One of the wise men looks daggers at her and shouts: “For pity’s sake. Why don’t you take that baby outside? Some of us are trying to worship!”
Jesus was there; but they failed to recognise him.
A recent survey revealed that for 48% of the population of the UK, the birth of Jesus is completely irrelevant to their celebration of Christmas.
Remember those well worn, and much loved, words from John’s Gospel: “The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.. He was in the world , and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.”
The whole point of reminding ourselves year by year of the Christmas story – the events surrounding the birth of Christ – is to focus on the fact that God made himself and his purposes known to us in that weak, vulnerable (and yes, crying) baby.
We sometimes make the Christmas story sound like some kind of fairy tale – which has little to do with everyday life.
Sadly, all too often we give the impression at Christmas that we are celebrating something rather beautiful but quite unreal – something that it’s ok for tiny children to present to us wearing tea towels or tinsel or cotton wool beards and strapped on wings; but nothing really to do with life in the adult world.
The words of our carols,too, can sometimes reinforce this fairy-tale ... whoever heard of a baby who made no crying, or a child that “throughout their wondrous childhood did honour and obey” his parents, or, come to that, a stable where all was calm and bright after an unplanned midnight delivery?!
Just look at the windows in this church – and the depictions of the nativity on almost any Christmas card. It’s so often all beautiful and clean – but, utterly unreal.
On breakfast television a few mornings ago a woman was interviewed who had spent £2000 on her three-year-old child’s Christmas presents this year. The list included an iPad and the latest iPhone.
But Jesus wasn’t born in an Apple store surrounded by expensive gadgets.
He wasn’t born in a clean, tidy, ordered place.
Nor was he given to the world by God, gift wrapped in designer clothes; rather God gave himself to the world in the form of a vulnerable, baby, born of working class parents far from home, weary and stressed by travel and the confusing political world in which they lived.
A world, in fact, very similar to that in which we now live.
And through Jesus, God told the world – each and every one of us – that we are precious and that he loves us and we are to love one another just as he has loved us from the beginning.
He made that love known to us, not by saying mushy things in neat, clean, pristine surroundings. Throughout his life he engaged fully in all the mess, and confusion, and pain of the world.
And his ultimate demonstration of God’s love was seen in his death on a cross. His message was that true love lies in losing oneself. It is in giving that we receive.
I wouldn’t want to judge that mother at all, in her spending £2000 on her child. But giving expensive presents – nice though they are – mean nothing at all in themselves.
Being cared for and loved in our daily lives is the real test of love.
I’ll never forget one Christmas which I spent with a family on a mission station in New Guinea.
We sat on the beach on Christmas Day eating rice from a shared bowl and flying fox (basically little bat-like creatures that were very crunchy and tasted horrible).
No Christmas trees; no tinsel; no expensive presents.
Their present to me was a photograph of the entire family and on the back they had written: “Brother Peter, we adopt you as a member of our family. This is our Christmas gift to you with our love”
That was the best Christmas present I’ve ever had.
That’s what Christmas is all about. It’s about reminding ourselves that God loves us and that we are to love each other, and to live as brothers and sisters. Simply, that.
Christmas isn’t a one off, isolated event but part of the story of God’s love affair with the human race that has continued since the dawn of time and will continue ’til all of us are safely gathered into God’s loving presence.
Through the ages, people have recognised this and chosen to live according to God’s invitation to love... and their lives have shone to transform the dark of the world, reflecting that light which is at the heart of God... that light which St John’s gospel celebrates.
So this Christmas I invite you to take your part in the story – the story which spans time and stretches into eternity.
You won’t need tea towel or tinsel. Just come as you are, like all the visitors to that stable, but go home changed, transformed, bearing Christ’s light yourself.