Sermon for Midnight Mass

Fr Alec
Saturday, December 24, 2016 - 11:30pm

The light shineth in the darkness, 

and the darkness comprehended it not.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.


This is, I know, a peculiar way to begin a Christmas sermon, but these words, taken from The Second Coming by WB Yeats have occurred to me time and again in the past year. Although written in  1919 they seem increasingly apposite, as nations and communities have fractured and splintered into tribes; as violent sects have torn apart whole peoples and cultures; and demagogues and bigots have gained ground all over the West. There is a tangible sense that darkness is closing in, that rational discourse is being drowned out, that everywhere people feel anxious and rudderless, and either grasp desperately for comforting falsehoods, or drift aimlessly in wilful and complacent ignorance. 


This year, the Oxford English Dictionary announced that its Word of the Year  is ‘Post-Truth’, and this seems to capture well the same spirit of the times; the sense that we are set adrift between noisily competing ideologies more willing to gain power through provoking an emotional response than engaging with concrete realities.


But I suspect that none of this is new. That the ‘post-truth’ world that seems to occupy our attention so much now is something that was well known to St John as he reflected upon the significance of Christ's birth two thousand years ago.


He writes

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.’


And, though his words acknowledge the brooding darkness, they are words of profound hope. What he saw in Christ was Light. A light shining in the darkness, full of grace and truth. A reassurance that amid all the claims and counter-claims, all the struggles for control, and violent bombast, there is nevertheless, in spite of everything, the possibility of Truth, the hope of peace, the seed of love. That truth is not a vain thing to hope for- a relative matter, a concept to aspire to, or a vague illusion, but an objective reality that could be alive amongst us, that is real for us, if only we will accept it.


When he says ‘the darkness did not overcome it, that word ‘overcome’ could equally translate as ‘comprehend’ or even ‘understand’ it. The darkness was aware of the light, but couldn’t grasp it or master it. We may feel that we are surrounded by darkness. We may despair of ever again seeing the light, but tonight, tonight we have the hope, the promise that we are not abandoned, that God has entered into our broken existence, and shed light where we didn’t think it was possible. That this light cannot be overthrown.




The great mystery of Christmas is that God, who is Love and Truth and Grace and Peace is not some distant and impersonal being, standing apart from us and the global events and personal tragedies that shape and affect our lives. No, in the birth of Jesus, God has come among us in His son. Giving flesh and form to these abstractions in a human life, so that we can not only feel his love, hear his truth, experience his grace and share his peace, but know that these things are possible for us; available to us.


Tonight we celebrate not just an idea, but an event. In Bethlehem, the eternal God entered into the boring, mundane stuff of real life. All around Jesus, as he was born, people were snoring and coughing, and lying awake at night staring at the ceiling. He entered our world, a world where people brush their teeth, and fret over money, and polish their shoes and have their hearts broken. He was part of this, and remains a part of this. And somehow, in amongst the hairdos and cluster bombs and spreadsheets and revolutions, Jesus stands as a challenge to us all - a challenge to be as fully human as he was. Not to surrender the essential innocence and compassion with which we were born.


Yet the fact that Jesus Christ was born into the world as a weak and helpless child reminds us of something else. It reminds us that in Jesus, God put himself at our mercy. That light and truth does not flourish alongside power and angry rhetoric, and is not spread by humiliating others or beating them into submission. It lives and grows where there is humility, and vulnerability. 


Darkness, after all, is not a thing. It is a void, an absence of light. It has no power over us while we have access to light. We don’t live in a Post-Truth world, but we have developed the habit of turning away from the truth, of preferring darkness as a place where we can lose ourselves in convenient fictions. Christmas reminds us of the innocence in which we began, and invites us to begin again. To step out of the shadows and into the light. To see the world afresh, through the eyes of the child in the manger. To bring before God our pains and our terrors, our fears and our failings, and know that they wont be met with the harshness and judgement we expect from others but with the love that comes from one who has walked the road with us.


As we make the pilgrimage tonight, through the chancel and up to the altar, and we kneel before Christ made present for us again here and now in bread and in wine, lets do so because we want to make ourselves one with him, who is Light and Truth, and commit ourselves to lives of the same gentleness, and generosity, and simplicity.


The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who walked in deep darkness, upon them light has shone.


Rejoice! Christ is born, and through his birth, we are made new.