A child is born – sermon at Midnight Mass

Part of the crib at St Johns Caterham
Scene from the crib at S. John’s, Caterham Valley

Here we are once more waiting for the big event tomorrow. Here we are with the story of a new-born baby, of a young single mother, with questions being asked about who the father of her child is!

Well, when the big event finally arrives we won’t be disappointed. Yes, it’s no secret – it’s been in the papers – that the truth about the father of Hayley Slater’s baby will finally come out. Quite how Alfie Moon is going to explain this to his wife Kat should be interesting. The big event, of course, is the Eastenders Christmas special (Note: Eastenders is a British television soap). And one cannot help but wonder, if like me you watch Eastenders, how the future is going to turn out for the poor baby in the middle of all this as she grows up. If you don’t watch Eastenders you won’t have the slightest idea what I’m talking about!

A new-born baby, a young single mother, and questions about who the father of her child is. Not Eastenders, but two thousand years ago in a remote corner of the Roman empire, in Bethlehem of Judea. Mary finds she is pregnant, Joseph her betrothed knows it’s not his. But he decides to stand by Mary and to raise the child as his own.

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 Mary and Joseph looked upon their baby, they must have wondered – how will the baby turn out as he grows up.

And 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. 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 by an angelic visitor for the reality that this is 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 at the moment is in such need of light. The world can feel so dark. Watching the news on TV just seems to be so depressing. The future of our own country just seems to be such a mess – who knows what state it may be in in a couple of months time. Let alone issues that affect the world as a whole as we struggle with issues of pollution and global warming, hunger and poverty. And there are personal and family issues – issues of debt, struggling to make ends meet, paying the rent, unemployment, illness. Life can often feel so dark, and while we know things should be different, while we hope for light to shine in our lives, the light just isn’t there.

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 and who he is, and what he will do when he grows up. As Isaiah prophesied so long before, God has sent light into a dark world to shine into the darkness.

In many ways, of course, it feels as there is little we can do for those who are submerged by the darkness that blights so many people 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. We can all do our part in bringing a little more light into the lives of those around us, following the example of Jesus.

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. And may he show us how we – as individuals, as a community, as a nation, as a world created by God – can bring light to each other and to all those who need it so much.