Sunday, 25 December 2011
Midnight Mass 2011 Sermon
At Christmas we are brought face to face with the miraculous, the incredible, the wonderful. We encounter the mystery of heaven touching earth and we rejoice in it.
No one in the Christmas story knows this better and more intimately than Mary; Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is so often depicted as meek and mild, but having studied her this Advent and encountering her life, that is not the woman I now see. We know that she was young, poor and from Nazareth; all making her lowly in society; but she was also strong, brave and knowledgeable. Mary was a young woman, a girl really, who accepted an extraordinary event in her ordinary life and agreed to be “The Lord’s Servant”, trusting God’s call on her wherever that might lead. Mary has left me in awe of her independence and faithfulness.
What do we know about Mary?
We know that she was visited by Angels and told she would have a baby who would be named Jesus and would be the Son of God. We know she managed not to collapse in shock at this and she had her wits about her enough to ask “how?” I’m not too sure I would be so all-together in the same situation.
We know that Mary gave birth to Jesus in a stable in Bethlehem; that she laid him in a manger wrapped in swaddling cloths; she cared for him, where they were, with what she had. She was visited by shepherds who came to worship her son and she would have seen the message that her son had come for all people. In this humble place her son was held aloft by humble people.
We know that after this Mary followed Joseph to Egypt to flea the danger from Herod; she did this; she followed the plan given by the Angels. And when they returned they brought Jesus up as any normal boy in the small community of Nazareth; most likely in a one room stone structure with a flat roof and an adjoining building for housing the animals; all the gospels tell us is that “he was strong”.
We know from historical records that from 3 BC, a town named Sepphoris was being built about an hours walk from Nazareth. This massive project would have provided work opportunities for artisans such as Joseph; he was a skilled worker in demand. It is likely that as the oldest son, Jesus would have worked alongside Joseph and would have travelled daily to Sepphoris, interacting with the many people involved.
But we also know that in the midst of this normality for the Nazarene family there was something more, Jesus was not JUST an ordinary child. Jesus was being educated in the scriptures and Jewish festivals and if what we know of him later in life is anything to go by, he would have been a questioner and thinker. And then there’s an event that was far from normal; Jesus was visited by wise men; a caravan of studious men who had travelled from another land bringing royal gifts.
Do you see what I see?
Do you see the contrast?
It is like the next King of England being born in Tower Hamlets to a single teen mother and then visited by President Obama and the Dalai Lama.
It is the extraordinary mixed into the ordinary.
It is the mystery of heaven touching earth.
Mary mothered the Messiah.
She mothered him.
She woke him each morning. She helped him to get dressed. She prepared his breakfast. She chased him off to school or to work with his father. She picked him up when he fell over. She kissed his hands when they were cut or sore. She worried about him when he was sad. She laughed with him in his joy. She washed him and nurtured him. And she tucked him into bed at night.
She mothered him.
She would also have introduced him to the scriptures. She would have helped him understand the community they lived in. She would have modelled human relationships. She would have helped him learn about life around him.
She mothered him.
And then, when he was 12 years old, Mary thought they’d lost him in a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but eventually he was found in the temple in Jerusalem. And for the first time Jesus turned to his parents and said “didn’t you know I’d be in my Father’s house?”
Can you imagine how that would have felt for Mary?
Her son, her boy; yet not JUST her boy, not any ordinary boy.
He was Divine.
Heaven touching Earth.
So we are reminded of the two sides of Mary’s mothering.
On one side was the joy, honour and love eternal as she brought Jesus up and then followed him on his ministry. She was there at the first miracle, she travelled with Jesus for the three years of his ministry and she was with the disciples at Pentecost and at the start of the church.
On the other side was her sorrow as she saw Jesus exhausted in his ministry, rejected by his community, condemned, tortured and killed. What sorrow she must have experienced; what depths of torture she must have felt. Yet she never despaired, never gave up and she never turned away from her task.
We can know both joy and sorrow; we experience them in our own lives. We are human, as Mary; she lived a very real life, just as we do. She saw heaven touching earth, and so can we.
Just for a minute I’d like you to think of something beautiful you’ve seen or experienced this week. Bring it to mind and hold it there for a minute.
I won’t ask you to share your thing of beauty. Perhaps it was the beauty of a sunset; maybe the birth of a child; or the smile on the face of someone you’ve not seen for ages. I suggest to you that your “something beautiful” IS Heaven touching Earth; the mystery to be rejoiced in.
Mary has so much to tell us this Christmas as we celebrate Jesus’ birth.
Mary’s calling to being the mother of the messiah demonstrates how well God knows each of us, completely; and loves us, entirely. God knows what we have to offer and what we can achieve, even when WE don’t. I know that can be hard to believe but I also know it to be true. Mary shows us that God needs the ordinary people of the world because he sees our extraordinary gifts; even when we don’t. We need to trust Him and see the wondrous people that we each are.
Last year I was lucky enough to work with a young mum and her kids. She wanted help, she felt like she was failing. I saw differently. I did very little for this young woman; I just affirmed her skills as a mum, built her confidence a bit and supported her in her bad days. God knew what she had to offer, so did I. And slowly, by hearing it over and over again, she came to know it too.
We need to believe in our goodness and recognise our extraordinary gifts.
Mary’s life shows us that God loves us, every single one of us, JUST AS WE ARE. Mary was called to a job she’d never expected, and she did it well. Because of who she was, not what she did; just who she was. That’s all.
Right now; this Christmas eve; I’d like you to remember something that you do well. It might be physical, or emotional, intellectual or relational. Bring to mind this extraordinary gift God sees in you and recognise it. Value it. See the extraordinary that you are.
Mary experienced heaven touching earth!
Mary experienced heaven touching earth and she reminds us that we can do the same, especially at Christmas as we celebrate the extraordinary joy of Christ’s birth.
You are valued and loved and gifted, and as you go out into the world this Christmas, feel that love within yourself and celebrate the goodness God knows in you.