Christmas Eve 2022
This evening we have lit the final candle on our Christmas wreath, the white candle signifying the birth of Jesus, the incarnation of God, and the light of the saviour Christ coming into the world. I know some people are very fond of their advent calendars, indeed I saw one last year at a friend’s house which was a small bottle of gin for every day – not really the penitential approach to advent! I prefer the weekly round of the wreath, with its story of the ‘loving purposes of our God’, through the witness of the patriarchs who gathered a disparate groups of tribes and turned them into a nation, revealing along the way their covenant with God, and their calling as his chosen people. Then the prophets who spent their time warning the people just how far they were away from honoring that covenant, how their treatment of the weakest and most vulnerable was nothing like the behavior of their God toward them. Then we got the last OT prophet, and the first NT one, John the Baptist, whose authenticity stands out – someone who lived the things he spoke of, whose genuine personal truth drew people to him, someone prepared to stir up the people, and prepared to take huge risks.
I have said often during these past weeks that advent is rich with themes, with stories and with plenty to give us cause to stop and reflect, to pause and wonder how to change our lives to more fully do justice to what this child came to teach and inspire us to do. I want to suggest now that the two things that have stuck with me are the fact that very often we don’t go looking for the right things, and secondly we are too often looking for the right things but in the wrong places. What do I mean?
Firstly to go looking for the right. Things you have to know what they are – we so often confuse what we would like with what we actually need. And so not surprisingly to are attracted to things whose superficial attraction is great, but whose lasting worth is not. And worse we are often unaware of how our searching is manipulated from the outside, so we end up in a vicious circle of striving to obtain things we don’t need, that won’t bring satisfaction, but will for many extend their resources to the point of breaking. And it isn’t just ‘things’, but in chasing things, or ideas of perfection in ourselves or our festivities, we lose sight of the things that matter – love and kindness, the well-being of others, peace and joy at home and in the world. All things that require more than a plastic card to obtain. To reduce humanity to a species that shops and consumes is perhaps the saddest of all outcomes, especially when this is the time of year when many prove through helping others, through housing the rough sleepers and feeding the hungry that miracles actually are easier than one might think, if only we try.
And looking for the right things in the wrong places… Well we have established that shops online or otherwise are not the panacea we might all think. What of the rest? Jesus said that he had come so we might have life and have it in abundance, and I often think this is the bit we find the hardest. Because abundance doesn’t mean quantity, it means quality. It means for example that if we treat our religion as a personal thing alone, then it will never flourish into the abundant life-giving source of hope not only for ourselves but others that it is meant to be. If we spend too much time pondering on our own unhappiness, or the pressures of live, we might easily miss the ironic fact that in concentrating more on the needs and cares of others, paradoxically our own lives are returned to us as Jesus promised, enhanced, and enriched. We are taught so often to search for ourselves, find ourselves, and yet the Gospel asks us to consider dying to ourselves so that we might rise and live for God and for others – in fact in losing ours is the very place where our most authentic and rewarding version of self is to be found, for we are not meant to live for ourselves alone.
And what of Christmas what should we want – well this child spent his short life asking us to be people who walked away from all that was dark and toward the great light of His truth, the light the darkness cannot even comprehend. And there is enough darkness in the world and people’s hearts for us to see this still makes total sense. To be people who are prepared not only to pray for peace, and the well-being of others, but to take a hand in making it comes about. Conducting ourselves so that we are sources of resolution and not conflict, that we include not exclude those we don’t understand or agree with, and that we have the decency and modesty not to judge others, but to look for the very best in all. A wonderful Benedictine once said that if someone is loved then to one loving, be it parent, sibling, friend or partner, is seeing that person as God sees us all. We have to try for that seeing, and as it is unlikely we will achieve it every day to remember that God sees all but is eager to forgive ,and when God forgives he forgets, and in that way spiritual progress is made. It is a lesson the world can learn, mistakes are a vital source of learning, openness, forgiveness and lack of judgment are what brings the change we pray for.
So I pray your Christmas will be full of what you need, not what you want, and that you will come to see the gift of this child as the means by which we can all live lives of abundance and joy, just as God intended for every single human being despite any apparent differences, all made in his image and loved unconditionally. Amen