We always have, as the gospel for Midnight Mass, the wonderful prologue to the gospel of Saint John in John 1.1-14. Here’s what I said to those gathered to celebrate the birth of Jesus at our Midnight Mass.
Will it be the warmest Christmas on record?
That was actually a headline from the Daily Mail in 2011.
And similar headlines have been repeated on a yearly basis with one exception – 2013 – ever since. And this year again similar questions are being asked as we come towards the end of the warmest December on record.
The daffodils outside the church are blooming. They think it’s spring! We’ve had to switch off the heating in the vicarage, and yesterday I had the window open as I was preparing my sermon for tonight, because it was just too hot. Children are growing up with no idea of the joys of making snowmen, or having snowball fights, or tobogganing.
And – I have to say – it’s making it very difficult when it comes to choosing which carols to sing. Singing, “See amid the winter’s snow, born for us on earth below” doesn’t seem quite appropriate. And as for “In the bleak midwinter” with its lines, “snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow”! No chance of that. And as for Bing Crosby dreaming of a white Christmas – well, he can dream on, because we know that yet again we’re not going to see one!
The weather is a serious business of course. The changes in weather patterns that are a result, we are told, of global warming, are adversely affecting great numbers of people in our country as well as around the world. And despite the recent agreement in Paris we know things will get worse before they get better, and the worst case scenarios are just too much to contemplate. The world slowly drifting towards catastrophe and seemingly little that can be done to halt the decline. The best we can hope for is that it’s not too catastrophic! And it feels as though there’s not much we as individuals can do except watch as things get slowly worse.
Is this the way the world ends? The world’s future hangs in the balance. And it reminds 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. It was supposed to end with the bang of Parliament blowing up, but instead he contrasted the failure of the expected bang with the whimper of Guy Fawkes as he has arrested and execute. 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 – we pray that action will be taken globally that means the world will not end with either a bang or a whimper. We are, as we all know, at a key point in the history of humanity on this planet, as we are called to make decisions that will affect our whole future, and the future of those who follow us.
And perhaps, in the scheme of things, our presence here tonight at this service perhaps doesn’t seem particularly important. 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 together. And yet the birth of the baby who lay in that manger is the most important event in human history. The key event upon which everything hangs – for what we make of him determines the future – the eternal future – of each one of us.
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. 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. And that’s what we gather to remember tonight.
And 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 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. And we can create a world with a future full of hope.
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.