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…many of them. Tonight we welcome the cubs, scouts and beavers from the whole of the Gateshead district to church for their carol service. I confess, writing a talk for such a varied range of kids & adults fills me with a certain dread, but there you go. It’s a DIY nativity, interspersed by carols, and it’s this combo that has in the end structured the ‘message’ that follows the creation of tablecloth-vested houses and balloon haloes….

Let’s recap, from the songs and carols we’ve sung and the scene we’ve created, to think about Christmas and what it might mean for us here tonight.

We began by creating houses – O Little Town – because we don’t exist as individuals. We are part of a community – or several; part of a city, part of a town, part of a place, part of a family, part of a wider family of scouts and at Christmas we remember also part of the family of faith and of humanity. No stronger moment exists to remind ourselves of our belonging not just to ourselves and our communities but to the whole human family

We chose some characters – not special actors from the theatre, just ordinary people to play our key roles. We worried if they were believable. That first Christmas, Mary hesitated only a second, Joseph wondered if it could be true until the angel reassured him. They were only ordinary people. Whether it’s literally believable, 2000 years on, seems to occupy some people more than the bigger picture.

For those of us with faith, we rarely hesitate over if the story of Jesus is believable, we just allow ourselves to enter into it, because it is in entering in, allowing ourselves as ordinary people to be drawn into other ordinary people’s stories with them, suspending judgement or cynicism, that we truly walk alongside others, as Jesus would do when he grew up and teach us to do. Entering into the mystery of Mary and Joseph and their walk to Bethlehem unknowing yet anticipating is what gives us each Christmas the chance to renew our own wonder.

Wonder and joy are often not the first words to be associated with Christmas today. We sang Silent Night – the message of Christmas seems so often these days to be a silent message, barely heard among the clang of shop tills and the festive activities that have lost all connection with the essentials of the nativity. Pantomimes and parties and trips to the Metrocentre – surely there is more to Christmas….?!

So it helps in the midst of the chaos and noise to pause just for the quietest, shortest time to remember that it is a holy night. A night in which our Saviour came to earth. In that one moment all is changed. All is light shining in the darkness.

Glory to the newborn king, sing the angels. What kind of king? What kind of king is born in a stable? What kind of kingship and what kind of kingdom does he represent? What does the adoration of those around him, and the willingness of others to leave their jobs and draw close mean? What attracts us to a figure who oozes love? Who lights up the midnight sky with hope? How could we resist?

In that one moment, everything changed. The Angels carry the message of hope far beyond the stable – to the shepherds who had been minding their own business, working hard outdoors in often tough conditions; and to the wise men, the kings from further away, those with riches to offer. Jesus was born for all, rich and poor. For city-dwellers and country people. For those with an education, and those without. He was born for anyone who was prepared to hear the message the Angel carry, the message of the baby born in a stable who will save us all.

We each of us, today, each of you, are a herald of God’s kingdom alongside those angels. In each act of kindness, each caring conversation, each good deed, each time you look after one another, pick up litter, do sponsored activities for charity or volunteer. You are the heralds of God’s love as it spills over from the manger to the stable, to Bethlehem and the hills outside, to the east and to the west. From far away in that manger, to being around us here, whether you think of him looking down on us or close by our side all day. And that he loves us infinitely allows and challenges us to love others. To hope and to work for a better world.

That’s the message we come here to celebrate tonight – a message of hope, of love, of faith, of commitment.

It is a message God sends to whole communities, of his commitment to all places, to the whole of Gateshead represented here.

It is the message that God comes to ordinary people; to love and to save ordinary people; to live alongside them, to use them to enact his marvellous works. Each and every one of you us touched by the love of God for his children; each of you an ordinary person whose being made in the image of God makes each and every one of you extraordinary.

It is the message that gentleness and care, love and generosity, humility and hope can be, could be, must be the things which matter more than celebrity and consumerism; a message that we should not keep to ourselves, that we should only remember once a year, but a message that should be sung out with pride all year round, across the world. Don’t ever let the Christmas message fall silent on your lips or in your lives.

Our world is tired, hungry, cold, fed-up, sad and broken. A world which still needs Jesus and his love to save it, needs to hear the message of the Christchild, a homeless illegitimate refugee, marginalised and tortured for his care of others and his radical teaching that all should be welcomed and looked after, that leaders have responsibilities and that communities do too.

Our final carol will be O Come all ye faithful. That is the enduring hope and challenge of Christmas. That you hear and that you come. That, like Mary and Joseph, you suspend any hesitation and allow yourselves the faith to believe, the faith to hope. Just come. As you are. Bring him a gift if you have one, just yourself if you haven’t – you are a gift. But come.

Come and look upon someone who loves you inside out, someone who loves you for who you are, someone who loves you from now to death and out the other side, someone who will tell you how to be the best version of yourself you can be – how to be the you you were made to be.

And that’s not your scout leader, it’s not your mum, it’s the tiny baby we fall on our knees to worship with the holy family, the shepherds and the kings. Because the message of Christmas is that from one tiny promise, one tiny acceptance, one tiny baby, the whole world is wrapped in an unending promise of love.

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Midnight Mass 2012
Isaiah 9:1-7; Luke 2:1-14

My friends we gather to celebrate anew the incarnation, God taking on our humanity to live among us. To liberate us and to convict us. To free us and to challenge us. We know that we cannot base our faith on the cute baby Jesus picture without the horrific death and resurrection of Jesus the man. But whilst we do not forget the latter, tonight is for celebrating that “a child has been born for us, a son given to us”.

The incarnation challenges us. A child born for what? Given to us why? To what does it call us? To what does it nudge us? Individually and corporately? The birth of any child brings a range of emotions and challenges. Tonight I want to explore four of them and what they might free us and challenge us to do or to be. They are common reactions to a birth, especially for new parents, as Mary and Joseph were, that night in the stable. more…

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It’s true I would have rather liked to be able to have been at midnight mass at my sending church this year, since it’s my last chance. But instead I was at what turned out to be a quite beautiful mass in the village church, celebrated not by the not-really-new-anymore-but-still-worthy-of-the-title-new-as-this-is-yorkshire vicar but by the old (old) vicar, the vicar I remember more…

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This year’s Christmas crib service at the church in the village was another ‘part for everyone’ affair, this year the different characters being designated by a coloured toilet roll inner, with a long explanation in the service sheet incase anyone wasn’t listening too closely. Obviously, just one blue roll for mary, the white ones were sheep, the white ones with tinsel were angels (bit of scope for confusion) the brown ones were animals and the nearly brown ones were shepherds (ditto…). I think I preferred the little bags of costume from last year, but still a good idea to ferret away. As each set of characters came out to place their toilet roll on the fabric covered boxes, I found myself thinking we could do a lot worse than try and live a nativity… more…

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