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THE PARISH CHURCH OF ST MARY THE VIRGIN, HENLEY-ON-THAMES

The Holy Eucharist of Christmas Morning

Jan 2, 2021, Author: Fr Jeremy Tayler

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Psalm 96
Isaiah 9.2-7
Titus 2.11-14
Luke 2.1-14

+In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

The headline in the Herald reads: “Bubble bursts on Christmas gatherings”.
In the Sunday Express: “Fast-spreading Covid-19 wrecks Christmas”.
The Sun points out that “Boris Johnson is the first British leader to ban Christmas since Oliver Cromwell in 1644”.
The Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph simply say that “Christmas is cancelled”.

Now, whilst I by no means wish to downplay the misery that the Covid-19 virus and the associated guidelines have brought, in particular the new recently-announced restrictions that shredded the Christmas plans of so many, it should be pretty obvious from my presence here in this pulpit this morning that I do not accept that Christmas has been cancelled.

No government can cancel Christmas, nor can any virus. It is only our ability to celebrate Christmas in the way that we would wish to that has been constrained, but the truth that we celebrate remains. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. The Word of God by whom all things were made, the reason and order that underpins the universe, this force of light and life was and still is united with our humanity through the birth of Jesus. Neither Boris Johnson nor the wretched virus itself can make a jot of a difference to that.

But we can take that thought a step further. When we think of the account of the Nativity in Luke’s gospel, when we think of Jesus laid in a manger because there is no room at the inn, is it the “truffly cheesy arancini bites” of the Guardian food supplement that show us the real Christmas, or is it the family anxious about how they are going to put food on the table in 2021? And when we think of the account of the Nativity in Luke’s gospel, when we think of this humble family on the move, is it the well-appointed middle-class kitchen which is the real Christmas, or is it the stranded trucker on the M20 outside Dover? Whether it be the ban on congregational singing, or financial insecurity, or loneliness and isolation, or the fear of the virus, or actual illness, or the loss of a loved-one, this is not how any of us would want to celebrate Christmas. And yet it may be that the pain and loss of this year brings us closer to the true meaning of Christmas.

Believing in God isn’t always easy, and most Christians will feel moments of doubt from time to time. And not only moments of doubt, but also moments of bafflement or even rage at God, as we struggle to make sense of the pain and suffering of the world around us and inside us. This is a part of Christian belief, and it can be found even within the pages of the Bible, most especially in the psalms.

God’s answer to our doubts and our reproaches, or at least part of God’s answer, is what we celebrate at Christmas. The point of Christmas is that in this tiny speechless infant born to a poor and humble family in a downtrodden corner of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago, God enters creation in a unique and direct way. In this weak and powerless baby, God is uniting Himself with our humanity, and embracing human life in its joys but more especially in its sorrows: in poverty, in loneliness, in persecution, suffering and ultimately even in death. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is with us, and He has trodden this path before.

And so Christmas is not cancelled, it is as vivid and as real as it has ever been.

Perhaps in the loneliness of this Christmas, we will find ourselves closer to Jesus than in the busy and crowded family gatherings of Christmases past.

Perhaps in the anxieties and fears of this Christmas, we will find ourselves closer to Jesus than in the jolly complacency of Christmases past.

Perhaps in the comparative austerity of this Christmas, we will find ourselves closer to Jesus than in the mindless consumption of Christmases past.

And for those of us who have been fortunate enough to come through all of this relatively unscathed, so far at any rate, perhaps it could be in reaching out in generosity to others that we find ourselves closer to Jesus than in Christmases past.

No, this is not how most of us would have wished to spend Christmas. And yet Christmas is not cancelled, this is still Christmas, the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. And not only is Christmas not cancelled, this could even be the most real Christmas most of us have known. However we are celebrating Christmas this year, whether in company and comfort, or in pain, sorrow, poverty, loneliness or fear, or perhaps some combination of all of these things, let us pray that God’s loving embrace of humanity in the Christ-child may fill all of our hearts with peace.

+In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.