Christmas Eve

Rev'd Sarah
Sunday, December 24, 2017 - 8:00am

Christmas Eve: 

 2 Samuel 7:1-11.16, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38

‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’

Mary’s courageous, obedient, utterly faithful statement lets the greatest gift, God’s love, pour into the depths of her heart, flood her life, and flow out into the world for all to share. 

That gift is Christ, the Christ child she bears, births, nurtures, and gives to the world as she lets go in love.

How will you receive, carry and give the gift of love that is Christ, this Christmas?

Transport yourselves for a moment to Christmas Eve, 1223, to a mountainside in Greccio, Central Italy. On that Christmas Eve, St Francis of Assisi, staged the very first living nativity scene.  St. Bonaventure takes up the story: ...Francis prepared a manger, and brought hay, and an ox and an ass to the place appointed. The brethren were summoned, the people ran together, the forest resounded with their voices, and that venerable night was made glorious by many and brilliant lights, and sonorous psalms of praise. St. Francis stood before the manger, full of devotion, bathed in tears and radiant with joy; he preached to the people around the nativity of the poor King; and being unable to utter His name for the tenderness of his love, he called Him the Babe of Bethlehem. he beheld an Infant marvellously beautiful, sleeping in the manger. And as he prayed he took up the holy child, and the infant Christ seemed to come alive in his arms. 

This is the defenceless, needy Christ that St Francis carried and gave to the world as he lived with, and as, the poor, the sick and the vulnerable.  Christ as the vulnerable baby who, while retaining fully his divinity, cries out for the love, care and protection of all human beings.

I remember lingering long in front of a painting by Ludovico Carracci, during the wonderful ‘Seeing Salvation’ exhibition at the National Gallery a few years ago. Carracci’s painting recalls this medieval scene of Mary appearing to St Francis and presenting her child to him. Here in St Francis’ famous vision, Mary is shown letting go of her beloved child, giving the gift of love into the arms of another to carry and radiate his love. Mary didn’t hold on to her Jesus; even though it pierced her soul, she carried, bore and gave him as a gift to the world.

Mary’s words, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ seem to pass to St Francis’ lips as he too accepts and carries the holy child. Carracci paints the figure of St Francis emerging from the shadows, but intensely illuminated by the radiance of the child and Mary. Francis cradles the infant Christ tenderly in his arms, looking lovingly, having received him from the arms of Mary. The earthly meets the divine as Christ is handed to St Francis, and he sees and reflects... receives, carries and gives Christ’s light and tender love out into the world. St Francis is truly seeing salvation as he carries Christ.

The blessed virgin Mary, St Francis... perhaps, we dare to believe, even we... carry the precious gift of Christ’s love and courageously let go and give this unconditional, vulnerable love into the world, however much it is rejected.

In this, we follow in the very nature of God because in the birth of Jesus we see God’s gift to us of his very self.  The gift of God’s life flowing out into the world and yet leaving God is the way when the greatest gift, the gift of love, is given. Like a flame lit from a flame, a candle from a candle (point advent candle), the first burns just as brightly however many great fires it lights. 

And so with God. God from God, light from light. The God we believe in is a God whose very nature is to give, to share vulnerably of himself, to hold nothing back not even His very being which is given to us, born among us, in Jesus Christ.  And in the giving of such love, God’s love is not diminished but burns ever more brightly. The true light, which enlightens everyone; the light that shines in the darkness.

In Carraci’s painting if you look closely, you can see peeping out from the darkness of the forest, the young unnamed friar of the medieval story of St Francis’ vision. This friar reputedly harboured doubts about St Francis’ holiness. On finding his hut empty one night, he sought him out in the woods and there he witnessed Mary appearing to St Francis and presenting her child to him.  At this point the friar fell to the ground in terror and fainted – to be woken by St Francis himself.  The doubting friar is painted in the darkness of the background, blending into the shadows.

Are we the figure in the shadows, cautiously checking all is safe before daring to love. Or will we, this Christmas and every day beyond, step forward in faith, courageous in obedience, with open arms to lift and carry the most vulnerable, tender Christ in the warmth of our love, giving his love as our gift to others. 

 May we, as St Francis, embrace the infant Christ seen in the faces of all we meet. May we carry the Christ child tenderly and courageously, as Mary, with her faith and depth of self-giving, letting go in love, and giving Jesus into the hands of others.

 Tomorrow morning....the manger will be filled with the reason for our faith, hope and love.  We watch, we wait, the story continues......and tomorrow it takes a very special, miraculous, turn....

 How will you receive, carry, give the greatest gift, the gift of love, the gift of Christ, this Christmas and through the rest of your life?