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A sermon for Christmas Midnight Mass

“And she [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son
and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Luke 2.7

Probably not the best beginning for a mother and child…!

Nor, perhaps, a very unusual one…
     – poor, unmarried, teenage girl has a baby…
          – it happens…!
     – in a shed…
          – slightly more unusual, perhaps…
     – and the events that followed: shepherd, angels, kings…
          – definitely a bit extra-ordinary…

But I wonder what her aspirations, her hopes for the future, had been, before all that happened…
     – before the events of that first Christmas overtook her…
     – before she became a teenager catapulted centre-stage  into the course of history…?

I’m guessing that she didn’t spend her earlier years really, really, really wanting to be the virgin Mother of God…
     – she probably just wanted to be a hairdresser…
     – or a waitress…
     – or maybe even a singer…!

Joe McElderry, on the other hand…
     – really, really, really, really DID want to be a singer…
           – but not just any singer…
     – he really, really, really wanted to be a star, a pop idol…
     – he really, really, really wanted to be the one with the X-Factor…

– and a couple of weeks ago…
     – one third of the British population were witnesses to his success…
      – another teenager catapulted centre-stage into stardom…

You will probably know that the letter ‘X’ in English…
     – has the same form/shape as the letter ‘Chi’ in Greek…
     – and the letter ‘Chi’ is the first letter of the word ‘Christ’…
     – and is often used as an abbreviation for the word ‘Christ’…
     – as in ‘Xmas’ / ‘Christmas’…

We could say, I suppose, that Mary was the very first to have the X-factor…
     – she, after all, gave birth to the X-Child, the Christ Child…

The TV X-Factor auditions began way back in June…
     – when Joe McElderry joined his first queue…
     – queuing up to become a pop-idol…
     – singing his heart out for the first round judges…

The real X-factor beginning was nine months ago…
     – the event the Church commemorates as the Feast of the Annunciation…
          – 25th March…
    – the celebration of the announcement to Mary that she would be a mother…
         – but not just any mother…!

And like Joe McElderry, Mary sang her heart out…

And the Church still sings her song today…
     – every day…!
     – every day the Church, as part of its office of Evening Prayer, sings the Song of Mary, the ‘Magnificat’…

 “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.
 my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour;
 he has looked with favour on his lowly servant.

 From this day all generations will call me blessed;
 the Almighty has done great things for me
 and holy is his name.”

But Mary’s song in not the song of an aspiring pop-idol…
     – anything but…!
     – instead her song focuses, not on herself, but upon the X that lies at the heart of her life
      (and in the centre of her womb!)…
     – upon the X-factor that turns away from stardom, and fame, and riches…
     – and concentrates upon turning those values upside down:

“He has scattered the proud in their conceit,”
 continues Mary in her song
 (without ever mentioning the name Simon Cowell)
“He has scattered the proud in their conceit,
“casting down the mighty from their thrones,
 and lifting up the lowly.
he has filled the hungry with good things
 and sent the rich away empty.”

Christmas night is the final round of the cosmic X-factor…
     – when the real winners are revealed: the lowly, the hungry…
     – and the judges: the proud, the mighty, the rich, are sent away…
    – where mercy rules, and God’s promise reigns…
    – where the values of a self-obsessed world are turned on their head…
    – and idols are exposed as the empty vessels they are…

Tonight is the final round…
     – but it is not the end…
           – that will come later…
           – about thirty or so years later…
     – when the ‘X’ at the heart of the universe…
     – revealed tonight as the Babe of Bethlehem…
     –  urther reveals himself from a different angle…
     – not with an ‘X’, but with a Cross…

[Thanks to CyberVicar for the seeds of this sermon: here.]

I sit at my desk, adding the final touches to the November edition of the parish magazine.  I’ve had to add, this month, unusually, an extra sheet, an extra four pages.  I’ve got stuff on ‘iris folding’, the Mothers’ Union, a Body Shop party, Webb Ivory, an interview with a parishioner by the youth club, fundraising news, stuff from the Cubs, Beavers and Brownies, pictures of the Duck Race, information on Parish Share, a report on a bell ringing competition, and another from the lunchtime fellowship.  There’s the Parish Registers bit, the Calendar, and the Rota.  Even with the extra pages, I’ve had to drop the readings for November, and no room to the Christian Aid figures for the local churches.   All are packed in, some are crowded out!

In some respects this is good—a reflection, perhaps, of an active, busy, wide-ranging parish.  A draft of the magazine lies on the desk before me: 19 crowded pages, and a single blank one.  My temptation is to leave it blank!

We so often fill our lives with all sorts of stuff; our heads and our hearts, too.  Filled with this and that, packed in, each competing with others for time and attention.  Space is crowded out, silence is chased away by clamour, being is ousted by doing.

Meister Eckhart, a 13th/14th century German Dominican spiritual writer, wrote:  “There is nothing so much like God than silence”.  Life needs within it a measure of space, of silence, of ‘being’ (rather than ‘doing’).  We all need it.  Silence and space are the lungs of the Spirit; without it we suffocate, we drown.

Advent begins at the end of November, one of the two ‘preparation’ seasons of the church.  Within the hustle and bustle of the run-up to Christmas, we need to make some space for the Christ Child to come into our lives, some small crib-sized space, so that, when he knocks, we have more to say than: ‘Sorry, no room within’.

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