This is the sermon I preached at Midnight Mass. For those from abroad who may be puzzled at the references let me explain. Eastenders is one of the top television soap operas in the UK and the Mitchell family are one of its most famous – or notorious – families.
A baby is born. New parents with a tiny child. And at one level Mary and Joseph were no different from any other parents holding a new born baby in their arms. They must have had the same hopes, the same fears, the same questions. A scene repeated millions of times over thousands of years. And like so many parents, as they looked upon their baby, they must have wondered at some level – what kind of person will this baby grow up to be.
Every parent has been there. As you look upon your new child and wonder what the future holds for them, what can you expect? What will they be like as they grow up? What kind of person will they grow into? What will they achieve in life?
Well – I’ve done a survey of a typical area of London and looked at how children turn out when they grow up. The typical area of London I’ve chosen for this survey is Albert Square in Walford, to be exact. For those of you who don’t know where Albert Square is, it’s where the people from Eastenders live.
Well – it’s very clear that any child born into an Albert Square family is not going to have an ordinary, uneventful life. So, if you live in Walford and are a parent, what can you expect as your children grow up in Albert Square? Assuming that they manage to grow up without resorting to murder – I counted five of those, the latest being Bobby Beale – what can you expect?
Well, there’s a very good chance that your child will end up as part of the Mitchell clan. Either they’ll find out that one of the Mitchell brothers is their father, or they’ll somehow be adopted into the family, or they’ll end up having a relationship with one of them. It can lead to some interesting and fraught relationships. And even if they don’t end up as part of the Mitchells they are highly likely to find out that their parents weren’t who they thought they were when they grow up.
Of course, the problem of parents in Albert Square getting on with their children when they reach their teenage years or early adulthood is easily solved. If things aren’t working out parents can send their children away somewhere across the other side of the world. It happens a lot in Albert Square. After which one of two things will happen.
Either you never hear from them again – they never phone, or turn up for family weddings or funerals – or one day they turn up out of the blue as a completely different person. It doesn’t mean relationships will get any better, of course! Ben Mitchell has been five different people and Phil Mitchell still can’t get on with him!
How will the baby turn out?
You can’t help but wonder what must have been going through the minds of Mary and Joseph as they gaze down upon their baby in the manger in Bethlehem. They must have wondered – what was this baby going to be like as he grew up, what did the future hold for him?
At one level just the same as any other new parents. But at another level they must have had so many more questions about this child. Because they have both been prepared for the reality that this was no ordinary baby. That this child will not have an ordinary, uneventful life.
Mary had learned of the pregnancy through the visit of Gabriel, God’s messenger. It came as something of a surprise but she was assured that this child is God’s Son. Even the name of the child is chosen for her – Jesus. Joseph, worried by the news that Mary is expecting a baby that is not his, also receives a visit from an angel and is also assured that the child is God’s Son and that he is to be named Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. What, as parents, were they to make of all that?
As to what the future held for him, as they laid him in the manger, I don’t suppose they fully realised. But they knew that this was God’s Son – a gift from God to his creation, a gift for all time – a light for the world, the light for all people as John puts it in the reading we have just heard. They knew that he was special and that, somehow, he would bring God’s light into the world.
And our world is in such need of light. It can so often feel that the world is full of darkness. In only the last couple of weeks we have seen the continued suffering of people in Aleppo; we have seen ordinary people doing their Christmas shopping in a Berlin market killed by a terrorist; we have seen Christians. mostly women and children, at worship in the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo have their lives brought to an untimely end by a bomb; mercifully Australian police have managed to foil a series of attempted bomb and knife attacks planned for Melbourne on Christmas Day.
The world can feel so dark. Yet Christmas Day tells us that the world can be different. Hundreds of years before Jesus was born the prophet Isaiah foretold that the people who walked in darkness would see a great light coming in the form of a birth. But no ordinary baby, this child would be: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
And so, as in fulfilment of prophecy a baby is born in the small town of Bethlehem, and laid in a manger by his young mother, there can be no doubt about this child – no doubt about his future, no doubt about what he will be. As Isaiah prophesied so long before, God has sent light into a dark world to shine into the darkness.
In many ways, of course, there is little we can do for those who are submerged by the darkness that has devastated lives recently in our world. We can feel so powerless. And there may be darkness in aspects of our own lives that sometimes feels overwhelming. But we can hold on to the light that is Jesus. We can keep our hope in the Prince of Peace. We can look to bring light into the situations we are in, through the hope that is in the baby born two thousand years ago.
Christmas is a time of light in the home. As this Christmas time we switch on the Christmas tree lights, or light candles around the house, remember the baby born in a manger two thousand years ago, God’s light in our world. Say a prayer, give thanks, and ask him to show us ways to share his light with each other. May he, through us, bring light into our world.