‘Midnight Mass’ – 24th December 2021 – Christmas Eve

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21 12 24 Christmas Midnight Eucharist (2)

The Readings

Isaiah 52.7-10
How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
who announces salvation,
who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

John 1.1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.


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 Joe P, a Reader at St. Mary's

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Well, like the determined lady in the Tesco advert, we’ve made it to
Christmas Eve, in THIS place, which is quite an achievement all things
considered. It’s wonderful for us to be here together on this special

When I was a child I was not a church going boy. I went to Church on
Christmas Day just once. It was the year I was bought a train set for
Christmas (for those interested, Hornby 00 Jinty locomotive in BR
Black, pulling a light engineering rake including a crane) and my Mum
took me to Church so that my father could set the train set up.
When we returned, we were greeted by all of the menfolk in my
family gathered around the trainset, playing. I think I got a look-in
mid afternoon…

For me, Christmas as a child is inextricably would up with women,
particularly my Mum and my Aunty. Most of the time, the general
attitude towards the menfolk was stay out of the way, go to the pub,
DO NOT drink too much and be back for dinner, which would be after
the Queen’s Speech.

This year it struck me how much the women in the Gospel writings
around the birth of Christ are ‘up front and centre’. In a society
where women were not regarded with any degree of equality, Mary
is given the agency to agree to carry Jesus in her womb. She doesn’t
ask Joseph, who simply accepts the truth of what Mary has
experienced and gets on with life. Elizabeth, mother of John the
Baptist feels her own baby acknowledge the Christ-child within Mary
when they meet, and her husband, Zechariah, spends the pregnancy
as a mute witness having been rendered (literally) speechless by the
Angel Gabriel. In the Magnificat, Mary recognises the radical nature
of what God is doing through her:

“He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in their conceit;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and
exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has
sent away empty.”

God is doing this through an unmarried teenage girl – not exactly
someone high up in the social calendar of society at that time. And
Elizabeth? She was 80 odd years old at the time she was carrying
John the Baptist.

And this is just part of what can best be called the paradox of the
incarnation. When we look at the story of the nativity, things unfold
in the way we might least expect! Remember the words of our
gathering tonight:
“Welcome all wonders in one sight!
Eternity shut in a span.
Summer in winter, day in night,
Heaven in earth and God in man.”

God is coming to Earth in the form of Jesus – fully human, and yet
fully divine, born in to the world like any other human child yet being
at the same time the divine Word. Our Gospel reading tonight puts it

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We
have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who
came from the Father, full of grace and truth. “
One might have expected this event to take place at a centre of
power – Jesus to be born in to an existing royal dynasty, or close to
the centre of Imperial power in Rome. But no; Jesus will be born to
an unmarried teenage mother who has trusted fully in God, in
something of a back-water of the Empire.

Even the circumstances leading to the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem
seem to turn over earlier experiences that the Jewish people had
with God. In the first Book of Chronicles in the Old Testament, we
learn that King David organised a census of the people of Israel.
Now, in the Book of Hosea, which was written a couple of hundred
years before David’s rule, it was written that “the number of the
children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be
measured.” By doing a census, David was attempting to count that
which God had said was uncountable – and he was punished for it.
But now, the Messiah will be born from David’s family tree, in
Bethlehem – the city of David - during a census arranged by the
Roman authorities, in which the house of David is being counted
rather than doing the counting.

The census attracts large numbers of people to Bethlehem to
register; so many that there is no room for Joseph and Mary.
Whether they are turned away from the inn, or are unable to get
accommodation with family members is somewhat unclear, but we
all know that Jesus ends up being born in what is usually referred to
as a stable. This may indeed be a stable, or it might be the lower
rooms of a family house were used for animals and storage.
Whatever the details, these are humble circumstances. The Messiah
is not born in a palace, surrounded by wealth, guards and servants,
inaccessible to all but the chosen few. He is born in straw and laid in
a manger; his first visitors are stabled animals and shepherds; he is
accessible and available to all – the King of all is born defenceless
into humility.

Thomas Merton, an American Trappist monk, pointed out the by
being born in such a place, Jesus is being born outside of normal
society. He’s not born in an inn, or a family house. During a
gathering together of people decreed by Imperial power, Jesus is
born as an outsider from the very start of His life.
From the beginning, it might be argued that in terms of earthly
power, Jesus ‘didn’t count’. There literally was no place for the King
of Kings to be born in to in the Roman world.
Merton argues:

“Christ’s place is with those others for whom there is no
room…with those who do not belong, who are rejected by
power because they are regarded as weak, those who are
discredited, who are denied the status of persons, tortured,
exterminated. With those for whom there is no room, Christ is
present in this world.”

But even at that moment of birth Mary and Joseph receive the
kindness of a roof over their head and straw for warmth and a place
to lay the baby. And this kindness does not come from those in
authority, but from nameless strangers who share their humanity
with the Holy family.

This Christmas we are again being confronted with uncertainty, with
the potential for further illness, people being away from family and
friends. This night, throughout the world, many people will feel that
they do not count, that there is no room in the world for them, and
that they are not treated as people.

This night, Christ becomes present in the world and joins refugees,
migrants, the poor, the homeless, those fleeing war and the ravages
of climate change, starvation and disease.

As we celebrate our Christmas, let us do what we can to offer those
people room in our hearts through acts of charity and compassion
wherever we encounter the need.

There is enough work for all of us, not just at Christmas, but all year.

The Prayers
From Common Worship: Times and Seasons

In peace let us pray to the Lord.

Father, in this holy night your Son our Saviour
was born in human flesh.
Renew your Church as the Body of Christ.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night there was no room for your Son in the inn.
Protect with your love those who have no home
and all who live in poverty.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night Mary, in the pain of labour,
brought your Son to birth.
Hold in your hand all who are in pain or distress.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night your Christ came as a light shining in the darkness.
Bring comfort to all who suffer in the sadness of our world.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night the angels sang, ‘Peace to God’s people on earth.’
Strengthen those who work for peace and justice
in all the world.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night shepherds in the field heard good tidings of joy.
Give us grace to preach the gospel of Christ’s redemption.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night strangers found the Holy Family,
and saw the baby lying in the manger.
Bless our homes and all whom we love.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night heaven is come down to earth,
and earth is raised to heaven.
Hold in your hand all those who have passed through death
in the hope of your coming kingdom.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

In this holy night Christians the world over celebrate Christ’s birth.
Open our hearts that he may be born in us today.
Holy God
hear our prayer.

in this holy night angels and shepherds worshipped at
the manger throne.
Receive the worship we offer in fellowship with Mary,
Joseph and the saints
through him who is your Word made flesh,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.


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