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Mysterious Midnight - Christmas 2011

What are we doing, here at St Luke’s church, in the middle of the night? Obviously we are celebrating Christmas. As Christians we are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, who is our Lord and Saviour. According to our calendar, he was born about two thousand and eleven years ago, and according to the Bible he was born in Bethlehem in Judea. He was born, like any other human, and his mother’s name was Mary. These are unremarkable facts – every human being needs to be born and being born happens at a certain time in history and mothers give birth to babies. In this way, Jesus is no different from you or me. In fact there are many people who share Jesus’ birthday just as we might share the birthday of Queen Victoria or Alexander the Great.
Well, then, why don’t people all over the world gather to celebrate our birthday, or the birthdays of Queen Victoria and Alexander the Great? Obviously, because there is something different about Jesus.
If we look through our readings today we hear the Prophet Isaiah saying that a wonderful child is to be born – a son who will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. At once we are caught up with words that are hard to understand. We might expect a person to be a wonderful counsellor, with the wisdom of Solomon. A person could also be Prince of Peace – there are peacemakers alive today whom we might describe as Princes or Princesses of Peace. But how can a human boy be a Mighty God or an Everlasting Father. No human can create the world and no human lives for ever. But Isaiah says that his authority shall grow continually and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and for evermore.
So here is a puzzle for us and for anyone curious about Jesus Christ. We could say that there is something mysterious about this boy Jesus. Mysterious means that there is something we can’t understand, something we can’t see or touch or feel or taste or smell. We can’t measure mystery and we can’t describe it completely. Somehow this boy Isaiah is telling us about is mysteriously truly human and truly God. A child has been born for us, says Isaiah. This baby has been born so that we can know and love him, he’s been born for us, not for someone else, but for us. What is more, Isaiah continues, a son has been given to us. Not just some boy somewhere belonging to parents we don’t know, but a son who is our son, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. My son and your son. One look at him and it’s like looking in a mirror – there’s no doubt who his parents are – you and me.
All these things are not unremarkable facts like the ones we started with – these are mysteries we just can’t understand.
St Luke, writing in the gospel, wants us to understand the facts about Jesus and the mystery as well. In the first half of our reading we have lots of things we do understand. The Emperor Augustus is a historical person, born on 23 September 63 BC, ruled the Roman Empire from 27 BC until his death on 19th August 14 AD. Quirinius really was governor of Syria; Nazareth is in Galilee and Bethlehem in Judea is also known as the city of David. And Jesus was born in a stable, wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger, because there was no place for them at the inn. There – easy to understand.
And St Luke goes on. Shepherds in the fields we understand, and keeping watch over their flocks by night – that’s fine. But an angel of the Lord stood before them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were terrified. Of course they were! Angels are not unremarkable facts; angels are mysterious and terrifying. You can’t ignore an angel and the glory of the Lord is completely outside our understanding.
And the angels echo the words of Isaiah, “to you is born this day, in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Anointed One, Christ, the Lord.” Do you notice that the angel says to the shepherds, the boy is yours? Jesus the Christ has been born to you. The baby belongs to you – you are his parents as of now! The baby belongs to the shepherds, to Mary and Joseph, to the Wise men from the East; even King Herod and the Emperor Augustus are the parents and custodians of the Saviour.
And so are we. God has entrusted to us the mystery of Jesus the Christ. The Christ belongs to us and is one of us. The Christ lives as one of us and we are one with the Christ. The Christ lives in us. St Theresa of Avila said,
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Tonight we came face to face with this mystery. The baby born in Bethlehem has grown up, has suffered and died and has risen in glory. Tonight we gather because we are part of the mystery of Christ and the salvation of the world. Let us accept the gift with both hands, eagerly, joyfully, with open mind and heart. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

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