Midnight Mass

Sermon at All Saints

There’s a whole host of words associated with Christmas – pudding, star, carol, mistletoe, manger, Bethlehem, myrrh and so on. You could make long list of them. But I wonder which would be the most significant one of all.

It might be word itself, word as we heard it in the Gospel: And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. This Word is the self-expression of God, God’s own self living in Jesus to show us what he is like. So that when we see what Jesus is like, his character and purpose, and hear what he says, then we see what God is like and hear what God has to say to us. Our words reveal what we are like; God’s Word, Jesus, reveals what God is like.

But the word I fastened on as the most telling word of all is Emmanuel. It was a name given by the angel in Joseph’s dream before Jesus was born. Quoting the prophet Isaiah, the angel said: Behold, a virgin shall be with child and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

Emmanuel, God with us: that is the very essence of Christmas, what Christmas is all about. It’s an amazing concept: God, God himself, the Lord God, the Almighty, the Creator coming to be with us by living in a baby, a boy, a teenager, a young man, a carpenter and one who eventually died a cruel, undeserved death.

In most ways, from his birth until the start of his preaching and healing when he was about 30, Jesus’ life was quite ordinary, no special privileges, just the normal, ordinary life of the son of a carpenter in Nazareth who when he grew up became a carpenter himself. Quite astonishing when you think that all that time, he was Emmanuel, God with us.

Well, we all know the Christmas story:  probably we’re too familiar with it. I’ve often wished that we could hear it fresh for the very first time so that we could properly appreciate the extraordinary wonder of it all – Mary and Joseph coming to Bethlehem, no room in the inn, the baby born in the stable and laid in the manger, the visit of the shepherds and the wise men -  all happening so that God can be with us in an ordinary human way.

In Joseph’s dream the angel also said: Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.

At that time and in that place the name Jesus was no special or distinctive name. It was an ordinary and common name, a shortened form of Joshua and meaning the Lord saves.

In the sports section of the Sunday Times a week last Sunday there was a headline: Jesus Saves Manchester City. I can’t remember it exactly, but that’s about right. Actually, the footballer’s name is Gabriel Jesus – what a name to have! – and it reminded me that, whereas I don’t think we could possibly call a child of ours Jesus, in Spain and Portugal and many South American countries it’s a very popular name, just as it was in Palestine when Jesus was born. And we can see this as yet another indication of the quiet and undemonstrative manner in which God chose to be Emmanuel in Jesus.

God with us; but not only all those years ago and all that far away, still today, every day, here and now he is with us, and not only in services like this Midnight Mass, but in every situation. He is with us, but in a way, we are only with him when we think of him and call upon him.

However, though Jesus was indeed an ordinary name, St Paul was surely right when he wrote: At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow. And so tonight as in heart and mind we go even unto Bethlehem, we kneel before the child in the manger who is Jesus Emmanuel in wonder and worship and love.