Sunday 25 December 2022 Christmas Day
Remember to Turn the Page!
Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14
Context: a small Eucharistic service in the city centre parish church near the Cathedral with established worshippers and some visitors
Aim: an invitation to reflect afresh on the message of Christmas
Picture the scene. Carols on the Hour at Gloucester Cathedral was in full swing. Some 4,000 people popped in during the day to enjoy the bite-sized carol services. The Christmas Market drew the crowds eager to find that perfect present. The ‘Giant Knitivity’ had arrived, life-size characters knitted by community groups from across the county. The camel was so big that it had to be delivered to the Cathedral on a fire engine – but then getting to Bethlehem was never an easy journey.
Back to Carols on the Hour. The choristers were resplendent in Father Christmas hats. The clergy were conducting the services wearing festive head gear too. Duly attired, I launched into the first reading about the birth of Jesus, gave it my dramatic best and returned to my seat for the singing of ‘Away in a Manger.’ ‘You might want to go and finish the reading,’ my colleague whispered at the end of the second verse. ‘You forgot to turn the page.’
‘You forgot to turn the page’. Life in clergy households in the weeks leading up to Christmas is busy, to say the least. When the pressure is on, forgetting to turn the page for the first reading is a minor mishap. Strange things occur. For example, my computer will insist on writing ‘angles’ not ‘angels’: ‘the angle of the Lord came down and glory shone around’ really doesn’t sound right. For the community carol service at a local nursing home, I had solemnly typed ‘The Shepherds visited the Manager’. To her eternal credit, the reader stopped herself from reading what I had written. The shepherds visited the manger; no manager in sight only angles - angels I mean.
‘You forgot to turn the page’. The most forgetful thing I have ever done at Christmas is to lose the shopping. Slightly in my defence, I had care of five churches and my son was only two. I distinctly remember getting back to my car, putting the groceries on the roof and then strapping him into his car seat. Yes, you’ve guessed it. We arrived home and there was no shopping in the car at all. We drove back through the town where the various ingredients for Christmas dinner were strewn along the roads, run over and squashed by other vehicles – definitely beyond salvation.
‘You forgot to turn the page’. I’m pleased to say that I did read about the birth of Jesus at Carols on the Hour. Fortunately, that part of the story was on the first page, ending with the angels declaring: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace, goodwill among people.’ (Luke 2:14)
If I had remembered to turn the page, I would also have read about the shepherds who interrupted their daily routine to rush to Bethlehem where we are told, they found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger. St Luke then writes: ‘When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them’ (Luke 2:18).
‘You forgot to turn the page.’ Like Mary, Joseph and the shepherds too, each of us here today has interrupted our routines in order to celebrate the birth of the Christ child. For the truth of the Christmas story lies in the birth of a baby who interrupts the world. This is the good news foretold by the prophet Isaiah. This is the Word who became flesh proclaimed by Saint John. This baby transforms darkness into light, hatred into love, war into peace.
TURNING THE PAGE
As we listen to the Christmas story, it is God who invites us to turn the page in order to become part of God’s ongoing story too. We become part of God’s story when we join in with God’s work to transform darkness into light, hatred into love and war into peace. We can do this as individuals. We can do this as a community, as a nation and as a world – but we begin with ourselves first.
Christ is born today into a world of such need. As we reflect on the ongoing implications of war in Europe and beyond, of the cost-of-living crisis, of the climate emergency, of living with covid - what new story might we write together with God? For in the words of Howard Thurman:
‘When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.’
Remember to turn the page!
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