Reflections for Midnight Mass 2021
Rev'd Lizzie Kesteven - Sermon delivered at St Mary's
I was walking down the Fishponds Road last week and wondering about the 5 senses that God has blessed humans with – sight, hearing, touch, taste or smell. Just metres from here on that road there is so much for all of them. The noise of the traffic and the chatter of people, the lights from the shop windows and the smile in people’s eyes. The taste and smell of coffee coming from the cafes. And the weight of heavy bags felt on my hands. Such gifts of senses. I have sometimes wondered rather morbidly that if I were to only have 4 of these senses, which would I choose? Or alternatively which one given the choice would I lose? Have you ever thought that? I think it might be different for everyone here. In my wondering I think then it would be the sense of sight that I would be the most reluctant to lose. I have so a deep and profound respect for anyone who manages life without physical sight.
The Old Testament reading from Isaiah today speaks a lot about sight. Isaiah says “for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion” and “before the eyes of all the nations” and again” all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God”.
Lots to see! Lots to look at in just a few verses.
Yet from the Old Testament this prophesy is rather remarkable. The Jewish heritage and traditions which form the foundation and bedrock of the Christian faith tells the story of the nation Israel’s relationship with God. It is a relationship which has its many ups and downs, covenants and renewals of faith. It has people such as Moses, Sarah, Jacob, and Rachel. It speaks of an intense relationship between God and Abraham. There are falling outs and making up. But in all of this the idea that a human could see God face to face was not possible. Moses makes it clear early on in Exodus that no one can see God and live. The people of the Old Testament hear God, can be in the presence of God, experience God and see Gods actions, wrestle with God, they can even have their own faces lit up by God. But to meet God literally face to face and live was not deemed possible. There is still a divide between the Creator of the world and the created beings that live in it.
Yet here tonight – as on every Christmas Eve – the night when Christians celebrate the incarnation, the dwelling of God in an actual physical flesh of a person. God in a baby. A baby who is God. Here on this night. We celebrate the change in the relationship between God and Us. The sheer magnitude of the claim of Christians in this statement is eye watering. Perhaps after 2000 years of saying it I can become more blaze about being able to physically see God, know God, and be invited to have a connection, a relationship with God. But the essence of what occurred 2000 years OK was more than just a key change in the music score of faith. It was an earth shattering revelation of how God intends to reset the whole thing.
And God chooses to reset by crossing over that original divide that had Creator of the world on one side and humanity on the other. In the manger in that stable in Bethlehem the reset of the world is born. No longer will God be some elusive voice or spirit. The wind which we cannot see, the force which we cannot touch or smell, is seen clearly. In a child. Sharing the most fragile and vulnerable aspects of our very selves. A child who sees as you see, a child who requires the human touch that you and I need, the child who will taste and smell and hear and cry. God who once made themselves known in burning buses and wrestling angels is now known in flesh as a human being. One that we can all see. One we are invited to look at.
God takes on flesh. God is a person – just like you. Just like me.
So what difference does this night, the remembering of this night, make?
I suggest it is two fold
It means that every person that we encounter – however much we might know them, or not know them, however much we might like them or not like them. However much we might feel connected to them or not. They bear the face of God. Because God now has a face. And in that way how I respond to them needs to be from this point of reference. They bear the mark of God. Just as I do. The harder part might be not the seeing Gods face in others, but accepting that people see God’s face in us. That is a joyous thing. It also marks out the responsibilities that we have towards each other. One of the benefits of mass media and mass social media in this age is also that we can see that the face of God is not confined to how we might see it just on the Fishponds Road – but how that face of God looks in Johannesburg, in Laos, in Kabul, and in Rio. So the connections between us become deeper, more diverse and in that we too can become more empathetic. It raises our horizons and lifts our heads to the many different faces of God.
Tonight’s celebration of the incarnation of God, the way in which God took on flesh and dwelt among us also means that God is with us. Not outside or removed, or far away or distant. But here. That God understands what it is to bear the joys and sorrows of a human life. The scars and celebrations. The laughter and joy and the tears and frustrations. Jesus life, death and ministry testify to that. It is the story that Christians hear and speak of and seek to understand for the other 51 weeks of the year. And that is a re set. That is eye opening. That is the way in which we can grasp with full sight face to face the revolution that God brought upon the world in a manger, a long way from here many years ago.
May we take that home this night so that we can live by it tomorrow.