Midnight Mass - 24th December 2020
Rev. Tom Mumford
I pray that I speak to you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
So, you’ve got to preach at Midnight Mass in 2020.
Well, where do you start?! Face it, it’s not the easiest gig at the best of times. Firstly, you’ve had to stay sober for the whole of Christmas Eve, which is one of the harder things you’ve had to get used to now you’re a priest. But also, this service is different. It requires something different. Something that lives up to the more magical feel of this Holy night, where Christmas has been celebrated for around 1000 years.
This is holy ground, holy time. You’ve got some big boots to fill. And of course you want to make a good impression. You want to make a good impression asa church, to those who come but who you don’t normally see, to those whose faces you won’t recognise at the door on the way out. You want to make sure they, and everyone who comes, leave feeling Christmassy, leave feeling different than when they came in (and knowing how temperamental the heating isat the moment, not just feeling colder!) You hope the tech will work, that the lack of singing and a choir won’t let people down.But, more personally, you hope that you’ll say something, something that may allow themto understand a bit more of what St Gregory’s, what church, Christianity, and God is all about…
Really, your deepest hope, is that you might say something that sparks a desire in someone, a desire to embark on an adventure, a relationship with God…the sort that you wish for yourself. But this is not an easy task, and so every time you sit down to write this sermon, you get a bit nervous.
So what are you going to say?
Well, why don’t you ask yourself why they’ve come (assuming it isn’t just you there!). What are they expecting? What are they hoping for? Because it is an odd thing to do really, to come into an old building in the dark, in the middle of the night. Especially when they know they’ll need to keep their coat on. What’s brought them here? Perhaps it’s hope. Perhaps it’s a hope that things really can get better, that light really does
shine in the darkness. And that this tradition, this thing called faith, can make a difference. Because it does, doesn’t it? That’s why you’re here. You’re here because you believe in a better world, a world where love breaks through, where darkness and sadness and pain can be overcome, transformed…
But you may as well level with them. There’s no point in beating about the bush. You can start by telling them it’s been a crap year. You may as well say it, get it out the way.Because there might be people there who have lost a loved one in this pandemic, or whohave lost a job. There will be people there who have found this year unbearable. Who have had to spend more time on their own than they would like. There will be people there who have suffered with their mental health, who have had sleepless nights, who have been depressed. Yes, it’s been a crap year. Tell them that you’ve found it hard too.
But you can’t just leave them down in the doldrums. They didn’t come here to be made miserable! Give them that hope, show them that light in the darkness they’re looking for. Because you do see it. You do see it in this ancient story, this ancient and beautiful truth. Tell them. Tell them why you think Christmas makes more sense this year than it ever has in your life. Tell, them why you think this story is more important to hear this year, more important to celebrate than ever before…even if we can’t celebrate it as we would like.
Tell them that the first Christmas wasn’t really how we often think of it. That it wasn’t like the school nativity plays with smiling children and cute furry animals. Tell them that in fact, the first Christmas was grim.
That it took place in a political melting pot of a Middle East. In an occupied land ruled by an imperial force in cahoots with a child murdering tyrant. Tell them that Mary was a poor peasant girl, and that the holy family were refugees, who couldn’t even find a safe place to give birth. Tell them that it was a dark world, a scary and unstable time. Perhaps not a million miles from our experience of the world now.
But tell them it was there that God’s presence burst in. It was there that God came into the world, and transformed it, where his love overflowedand outpoured. That it was there, in the darkness, in the most unlikely of places, that the light shone. Tell them, that for you, this is who God is, what God does. It’s just his nature. Tell them that you’ve experienced this before in your own life. And that because of that, you
know that this is Good News for us all right now . That in the darkest of times, where we’ve suffered so much loss, isolation, and pain thisyear. That this is where God breaks through, that this is where God is, offering new life, new hope, a new dawn.Tell them that this is what Christmas is really all about. That this is not the end. That the light shines even in the darkness, and that darkness does not, will not, overcome it.