Sermon: Midnight Mass, 2008

Text: CJM Video – I Want; Luke 2:1-14


The obvious question, we might want to ask ourselves, after seeing that video, is “Is that all there is to Christmas?”

In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

One of the oldest traditions for any major festival or event is the giving and receiving of gifts: when the Queen visits some foreign country, she is showered with gifts, many of which subsequently end up for sale on eBay, when we have birthdays, or leave a place of work, we are given a gift, a token which says “you are valued”.

At Christmas, the giving and receiving of gifts is enshrined in the culture of Christmas. The headteacher of our local infant school said to me recently “For our children, Christmas only really, truly begins when the Argos Catalogue is published”; for the focus of Christmas has changed from the giving of gifts, from the saying to another “you are valued” to the demanding “how much do you value me?”

Last year the media were full of stories of people struggling through everyday poverty and feeling enforced to spend vast, even obscene amounts of money on their children – a thousand pounds per child in one case, and ensuring that the trap of debt keeps them captive all through the year. This year, with redundancy and financial hardship facing so many in our community, I can only pray that such pressure is lessened, but I fear that it is not.

But the giving of gifts is not dependant upon its value. When a gift is most effective is when it is not given with the expectation of a gift or a favour in return. It says “you are valued”, not “I expect…”

At Christmas, we have all been given the most wonderful of gifts. It is a Free gift, given with no conditions, and with absolutely no expectation of anything in return. It is the ultimate statement that “you are valued”.

The gift of the Christ-Child may be free, unhindered or unsullied by ulterior motives, but it is not without value.

For the presents we give each other are so much like our frail world, so much like our short human existence: these gifts break or wear out or the batteries die (often in my experience within an hour of their use), but the gift of Christ lasts for ever.

Like the most thoughtful of gifts, it is a gift which speaks individually to the person receiving it: like that carefully chosen perfume to suit an individual, an item in a favourite colour, a beautiful frame containing a photograph of a happy memory, like those the gift of the Christ Child is a personal gift.

This gift has power: the power to change us, by opening ourselves to this gift, and receiving the really good news of a God so prepared to value us, to be with us, that he should choose to come amongst us as a small and vulnerable child, we are transformed. For the gift of a child, became the gift of a man and his life-changing ministry, and the gift of a man became the gift of salvation through the Cross and the victory of the resurrection. This story does not end with this stable, it does not end at the foot of the cross, it does not end with the empty tomb or the fire of Pentecost, and it does not even end tonight as you receive the body and blood of Christ, but continues its work of transformation and change, as you leave this building with God’s blessing and into the rest of your lives.

This present will last for ever, and enables us to know intimately the one who freely gives us this gift: for God himself is the name on this gift tag.

So, as you receive this sincerely given, beautifully wrapped gift, you should prepared to be changed by the Christ child this night. It is a gift of love. It is a gift for you.