‘God’s Unmasking’ – 25th December 2021 – Christmas Day

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21 12 25 Christmas Day Eucharist

The Readings

Isaiah 9.2-7
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Luke 2.1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


Scripture Quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
By Canon Dr. Alan Billings

For the past two years or so, in my day job, I have been having meetings that have followed a strange ritual. Well, it would have seemed strange in all previous years, but it has now become quite normal.

I go into a committee room and stand on the far side of a long table. Other people come into the room and join me, spreading out round the table.

What’s strange is that we are all wearing face coverings. We’re all wearing masks. It’s as if we are a branch meeting of the ku klux clan. It’s only when we are all assembled that we sit down and take the masks off. Then we recognise one another.

This is what the pandemic has done to life in so many offices.

Sometimes I am meeting people whose voices I think I recognise – from seeing and hearing them speak on calls over the internet. But I need them to take their mask off to be really sure that it is them. I need to see their face.

I need to see their face. Because our face is so revealing.

Think of some of the things we say about faces.

She’s got such an honest face.

I wouldn’t trust him. He looks like a crook. He looks. His face gives him away.

I can read her like a book? Why is that? Because her face says it all.

I know there are certain sorts of Christmas present I dare not buy my grandchildren. Oh, they are very polite. My granddaughter would say, ‘Thank you grandpa for the sturdy pair of outdoor shoes you have bought me for Christmas. They’re just what I wanted.’ But her unsmiling face would tell me that the real message behind the politeness is, ‘If only you’d given me the money.’

If two years of being masked has taught us one thing, it’s this. Our faces matter. They are such a big part of the way we communicate with one another. When we talk to one another without masks, we can see immediately any of those subtle changes in expression that speak more than words.

When I first began to marry people as a young curate fifty years ago there was a very dramatic moment in the service when the bride put back her veil and revealed her face. It’s not done any more. I don’t know why or when that tradition began, but the symbolism was very clear. For the couple, marriage was a sort of unveiling or revealing of one to the other. The bride and groom open a door to one another and invite each other in. For that to happen, they had to communicate face to face, not mobile to mobile.

So faces matter. They are the window onto our personalities, they reveal our very souls.

And this is why the face of a dead person can be so disturbing. In one of the crime novels by P.D.James there is a moment where one of the characters sees the face of the murder victim. But the face, the window onto the soul, is saying that the soul has gone. He cries out in his distress: ‘Cover her face.’

If all this is true of human beings, isn’t it also true of God? And isn’t this what we are celebrating today, Christmas Day. Today is the day of God’s unmasking.

This is what the Church means when it speaks about the incarnation. Day to day, God is hidden. Masked, if you like. But once, on this day, he chose to make himself known to us, to show us his face, in the face of this child, this particular human being, once born on earth, once come among us.

So, whenever we find any of those age old human questions forming in the back of our minds – where is God? what is God like? does God love us? does he love me? - the Church points us here for the answers. To this child. Born today. This is God showing us his face, and so giving us that window into his nature, his very self.

Christ in the manger is God’s unmasking. Which is why, whatever the circumstances, for us it’s a Happy Christmas.

The Prayers

Prepared by Catherine B

Jesus, whose mother was Mary:
we pray for parents and carers of children everywhere, and those caring for elderly relatives and friends. We give thanks that Christmas is a time when many families can celebrate together, but remember too those who find family life difficult, or who will be on their own this year.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, cradled in a manger:
we pray for all those who are homeless this year. We think of those sleeping on the streets of Sheffield. We pray for all who have fled their own countries trying to find somewhere safe to live. We give thanks for all charities working with the homeless and refugees and pray for the work that they do.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, sharing the stable with the animals:
we pray for our world and all created life. We think of the joy that being among nature brings, and give thanks. We pray that we might look after our planet wisely and carefully.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, worshipped by shepherds and kings:
we pray for people and nations throughout the world. We pray that leaders act with wisdom, justice and kindness, that all may thrive.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, our Emmanuel:
we pray for all who are finding life difficult, through illness, bereavement or other troubles. We give thanks for healthcare workers, counsellors and all who provide practical support. We pray that we all do our bit to help those we know who need it. In a short time of silence, we think of those we know who need our prayers this Christmas.
Lord Jesus,
hear our prayer.

Jesus, Saviour, child of Mary,
you know us and love us,
you share our lives
and hear our prayer.
Glory to you for ever. Amen.

Common Worship: Times and Seasons, material from which is used here, is copyright (c) The Archbishops’ Council