Christmas Eve 2017

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 24 DEC 2017, ADVENT IV & Christmas Eve, 11am

 Revd Angus MacLeod 

 

 “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth…” Luke 1:26
At Aldershot Crematorium this week, a middle-aged son

gave a memorable opening line to his mother’s tribute:

“I first met my mother in a south London maternity ward in 1960 –

I don’t remember it!”

 

In my own family folklore, I was raised on the story

of my beginnings in Edinburgh’s, Simpson Maternity ward.

I was child number five.

When the lunch trolley came round, offering fish on Friday –

all eyes turned to Mrs Macleod.

1960’s Scotland assuming the woman producing children so prodigiously

must be tradition-observing Roman Catholic.

As a future first female elder in the United Reformed Church

Mum always enjoyed relating that tale.

 

Michael Mayne, the late Dean of Westminster one recounted:

I was once in a group who were talking about a man whose integrity and singleness of purpose and very practical goodness had impressed us all.

When we had finished discussing him an elderly woman

who had remained silent said:

“Well, he must have had a very remarkable mother. M Mayne p.25

 

A mother, her beginnings, her influence – are at the heart of today’s gospel

on this fourth Sunday of Advent;

Mary – the mother of all mothers!

We sang her defiant hymn, the Magnificat;

“Tell out my soul the greatness of the Lord…”

Then heard the gospel encounter – artist-beloved,

enigmatic, time-suspending,

Galilee and Gabriel, girl and angel.

 

Mary, perhaps as young as twelve;

marriage accelerated in the light of life expectancy and prevailing culture.

Barely a woman, betrothed to Joseph,

two peripheral players in an out of the way town.

Visited. Addressed. “Greetings, favoured one!” Perplexed.

 

Reassured. “Be not afraid Mary, for you have found favour with God.

You will bear a son; name him Jesus.”

 

“How so? Joseph and I are betrothed – nothing more.”

“The Holy Spirit.

Confirmation? Look to your cousin Elizabeth, – now carrying a child within –

for nothing is impossible with God.”

 

It is a strange favouring.

Even today in western liberal culture, a young single Mum is often singled out,

judged, less than compassionately.

How much worse in a world of strict decorum and marriage arrangements,

unplanned pregnancy, a potentially fatal humiliation.

Mary’s “Yes” to Christ is no risk-free, triviality –

nor should it be for those who seek to follow.

 

“Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Familiar words; acceptance speech.

The way Luke tells it, everything else hangs on that first “Yes” –

the birth, the life, the death and resurrection of Christ.

Mary’s “Yes” sets in train a sequence of events that alters the world,

then and now.

 

But Mary is honored not just because of her initial yes –

brave and beautiful as that moment is portrayed.

Nor honoured, just for her giving birth –

the tableau we will tell in carols and word, tonight and tomorrow.

Mary is honoured because she was the first person to love Jesus

and the first person Jesus loved.

 

We honour her because she (and Joseph) taught him,

as best they were able, the meaning of love.

From her own example, Jesus imbibed

that love must be generous, unselfish, non-possessive,

and always in the end, costly.

Later Mary would be warned of the sword in her heart

and we know something of her own road to Calvary.

We may meditate upon, indeed treasure, her first lovely “Yes”

but, like a marriage vow or any promise of love and faith,

we should recognise it as simply the first of many –

for faith and love are sustained by consent and discovery, ongoing.

 

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth…”

 

It has been said that Luke’s gospel, from the outset,

concentrates on the least, the last and the lost.

Arguably, God chooses Mary because she has nothing –

a young girl in a society that values males and maturity;

in human terms she is far from favoured.

Therein she provides a bridge to the voices of recent days –

not just the son at Aldershot crematorium.

 

At a school gate this week, a parent spoke of the precious work

of the support groups that meet here, and in many other places across this city.

He spoke of a sort of hidden map of London

churches that host Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

He spoke of the importance of mutual identification,

the message that one is not alone –

recognising that a terrible part of addiction is its isolation.

He said those groups, those places, save lives.

 

The same day from the radio, an account of Christmas with the homeless.

The programme, Soul Music takes a well-known song or piece of music,

explaining its origins and weaving in accounts of people, famous or not,

of how that particular piece has become meaningful or significant.

The choice this week was O Holy night.

 

Asteria Vivies is an outreach worker for a faith-based charity

working with homeless and homeless addicts in Philadelphia.

She described how Christmas 2016 became different.

 

In her city there is an area where up to two hundred addicts live rough

in a makeshift cardboard city.

Familiar and trusted by its residents, she learnt

that what so many of the homeless missed most

was the gatherings of Christmas.

So her organisation resolved to take Christmas to them –

not just an inviting them into a community hall,

but actually taking the outward signs of Christmas

to the place where they are dwelling.

“We took a Christmas tree, we took hot chocolate, we took carols, we took prayers.”

Slowly, one by one, people came closer.

 

These people who had lost so much, were happy they were remembered.

Some asked for prayers – requesting forgiveness from their families.

Vivies explained: “They are lost. They need to know they are still loved.

It was a heartful moment for all of us.

A reminder that Christmas didn’t need to be about presents.

It was just about gathering, hot cocoa, music, talking.”

 

Her final advice; “Just say good morning, good afternoon, good evening.

Have a good day.

Make them feel grand again, because they are human.

We are no better than them.”

 

Tonight, St Columba’s hosts the Night Shelter;

tonight the doors of Crisis are open;

tonight the secret map of London’s support groups will continue to be navigated.

Thank God.

Thank God that love came down at Christmas.

Thank God that there are those who continue to say Yes to life,

to God, to neighbour, to love –

and by their Yes, demonstrate,

Mary may be the first on whom God’s favour rests,

but she is not the last.