Sermon preached by Rev’d Dr Emma Pennington at All saints’ Cuddesdon on Christmas night 2018.
Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7. Luke 2: 1-14.
I would like to share this prayer with you. It’s by Ted Loader and I happened to stumble across it a few weeks ago, but since then it has lived with me and I would like to give it to you this night:
The wondrous gift is given.
I would be silent now,
That I may receive
The gift I need,
So I may become
The gift others need.
In all the noise of Christmas it often seems that silence and stillness are a rare if sometimes unwelcome gift. No one wants anyone to feel lonely or lost at this time of year which celebrates the kindness, compassion and love human beings have one for another. But often, as the Christmas music is turned up in our supermarkets and we invariably rush from one thing to another we can so easily deny ourselves that precious gift which can only be given when we are silent and still, when we risk being as open and vulnerable as a baby to God’s love.
It’s that gift which Alan Harris so beautifully expresses in his poem, Listening to Christmas:
Have you ever heard Christmas?
Not the traffic noises in the city,
not the bells and hymns and carols,
beautiful as they are,
not even the laughter of your children
as they open their presents–
but Christmas itself?
Have you been by yourself
and just sat and listened to the silence within,
patiently, without letting the mind
race to the next Christmas chore?
Perhaps if you have,
you felt the pulse of all humanity
beating in your own heart.
Perhaps you noticed
an outflowing of love
for all your brothers and sisters
on the earth,
a soft sense of Oneness
with all that lives.
In the silence of a snowy night,
listen intently, holding your breath,
and you may hear snow on snow.
undisturbed by thought,
listen to the silence in your heart,
and you may hear Christmas.
For many silence, however, can be a frightening prospect. Who knows what thoughts may bubble up, what darkness will overwhelm in grief, sadness and disappointment. Silence can feel like an empty void of nothingness and rejection which it is flee from into a world of tinsel, tunes and toys.
Yet as the words of the carol ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ so perfectly express, the silence of Christmas is not a killing absence but a healing, life-giving presence. ‘How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given’. This gift is not about babies, for as anyone knows who has been present at a birth, children are born with a voice that cries out for love, and to which we cannot but respond. No, the gift refers to the pure love of God’s very presence in our lives that is poured out silently with sacrifice, self-denial, need, trust, compassion and kindness. God enters our lives to be with us, Emmanuel, and not apart from us. To be a light in our darkness, to accept and cherish who we truly are, to heal and reconcile what we cannot bear to name so that we in turn may be Christlike in the whole of our lives, in the noise as well as the silence, and may in turn become the gift others so badly need.
So in the stillness of this church and on this Christmas night amidst all the joy of the festivities, I invite you now just to draw breath, silence your mind and still your heart to listen to Christmas and receive the gift which God knows you need and longs to give you, the gift of his very self and his love. Amen.