A very happy Christmas to you all. Here’s my midnight mass sermon for this year.
It’s good to see you all here this evening. You obviously all made it through the end of the world in one piece. After all, there were those who were saying it was all going to end on Friday. On the 21st December the 5,125 year calendar of the ancient Mayans came to an end and some were predicting that the world was going to end after being hit by a rogue planet. It would certainly have been spectacular. I assume that those who were really convinced that the end of the world was nigh didn’t bother buying any Christmas presents this year, and have now had to rush out and buy them all at the last minute. I think the best, and most understated news headline, posted on Friday afternoon on the CBS News website, was: Mayan calendar ends; world doesn’t.
Which brings me to my favourite joke about it which I found on Facebook. If you’ve already heard it, feel free to laugh again.
There are these two Mayans. One is sitting down, hard at work. The second Mayan says to him, “Fancy a beer?” The first Mayan replies, “Well, I’m working on this calendar, but I guess if I don’t finish, it won’t be the end of the world.”
The world didn’t end with a bang on Friday, and it reminded me of the famous quotation: This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper. That’s actually a quotation from a poem by T. S. Eliot – when he wrote it he was referring to the Gunpowder Plot, and he was alluding to the fact that the end of the Gunpowder Plot wasn’t the big bang that had been planned as Parliament blew up, but with Guy Fawke’s whimper after he was caught and executed. But it’s one of those phrases that has entered the language and is now widely known even when the rest of the poem has remained largely unknown.
This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.
Well – no world ending with a bang on Friday. Not even a whimper. And so having made it through the non-event of world destruction here we are once more, gathered together at Midnight Mass to celebrate the birth of a baby in a manger, before leaving one another to join with family and friends tomorrow to celebrate.
We have just heard the famous prologue from the gospel of Saint John, in which he describes how God comes into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. He dresses it all up in such wonderful language, and makes it all sound so amazing and mysterious. This is, after all, an major event – the most important event in history. God comes to live among us in the person of Jesus Christ, to show us how to live, and to die upon a cross for our salvation.
Now just think for a moment. If you were God and wanted the people you had created to sit up and take notice how would you go about it? After all, as God you are all powerful. So you might think that God would decide to come in a great blaze of glory, in a way that would ensure the whole world would notice the moment of his arrival. God could have come in a way that would make sure that everyone then and since would know without a doubt that he had come and that he expected us all to listen to him and do what he demanded. He could have come with a bang. But he didn’t. He came as a weak and tiny baby.
And to pick up on T S Eliot’s phrase – this is the way our salvation begins, not with a bang but a whimper. The whimper of a tiny baby crying in a manger, born into a poor and obscure family. And what better way to identify with, to share with and understand the people he had created.
Tomorrow we’ll be celebrating the birth of that tiny baby, and the arrival among us of the God who came to his world not with a bang but a whimper. It really is something to celebrate, so make sure the day goes with a bang! But in the midst of all the exuberance, just give a thought to what we celebrate – the baby in a manger and why he came. For this tiny baby, this Immanuel, God-with-us, came to teach us how to live. He came to teach us the real meaning of peace, of love, of justice. He came to bring us back to God, to show us what our creator God is really like, so that we might become the kind of people God wants us to be and create the kind of world that God wants us to live in – and that we want to live in.
And from that small beginning in Bethlehem, Jesus calls us to respond on our own small way. We may not be great politicians, we may not be rich and powerful, we may feel that there’s not much we can do to make the world a better place – that we are just individuals among billions and that nothing we can do will really make any difference, that it’s down to governments and big business to do what’s needed. After all, there’s so much in our world that we’d like to see change, so much that’s wrong, so much suffering, war, poverty. We see it in our news every day. Yet if we take our lead from the God who came not with a bang but a whimper, we can be inspired in our own small way to bring his peace, his love, his justice, his salvation, to our families and our friends, our communities and our world.
May our all-powerful God, the weak and helpless baby in a manger, bless you and guide you and inspire you this Christmas and in the coming year.