Sermon preached at Midnight Mass, 24 December 2017
This is perhaps the most dangerous sermon of the year –
dangerous, at least, in the sense that there is an increased risk that by the end, at least some of the congregation will have nodded off to sleep! So let me start by telling you something of what’s in it just in case.. Tonight I want to talk about “Youthquakes”, Bitcoins and bottle deposits. And if you want to know how on earth I can connect all those things into Christmas – you’ll just have to stay awake!
Let’s start then with “youthquake”, the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year. Youthquake is defined as ‘a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people’. We might think of the huge social changes that occurred in the 1960s – and whether we view those changes as good, bad or indifferent probably depends on how old we were at the time or, as in my case, if we’re not old enough to remember!
The same generational fault-lines surfaced again during this year’s General Election – which perhaps explains why a word that most of us hadn’t ever used until very recently has suddenly shot to prominence.
Perhaps the most predictable link to the Christmas story, then, lies in the fact that Jesus – God incarnate – comes to us not as a mighty warrior – not even as a stroppy teenager – but as a tiny, frail infant – unable to speak, let alone command his people to repent. And yet, if this story of Christmas is true, then this tiny child has sent shockwaves through not just one society, or culture, but through the whole created cosmos.
This tiny, helpless baby grew to become – yes the awkward adolescent, giving his mother more than the odd palpitation along the way, and then the charismatic leader – unafraid to challenge the failings of the society he lived in – willing to die to prove the point of God’s greater plan for us all.
I said “if it is true” – because it is painfully obvious to us all that the world we live in today is far from perfect – it is painfully obvious to those of us who believe that many of our neighbours are pretty indifferent to Christ and his gospel most, if not all, of the time.
How are we supposed to make sense of that? Was the world changed for ever by this particular “youthquake” or, as our detractors might suggest, is it the case that we have been left behind as the world has moved on again?
Cue the “bitcoin”!
That’s another word about which we’ve heard plenty over the last couple of weeks – along with terms like “cryptocurrency” and “futures markets” – neither of which tend to crop up in most people’s daily conversation.
As the new currency was released, last month, one financial commentator was asked to speculate on how the Bitcoin might be performing in 20 years’ time. The answer she gave was very succinct – “it will either have petered out altogether or it will have completely changed the way the world works”.
The reason for that bold claim is that this is the first widely available currency that has no central bank or administrator – relying completely on transactions between users, of which there are estimated to be as many as 5.8 million users (but no-one is exactly sure!).
It is a very different way of operating – outside the control of the established systems – and just as unsettling to some in financial services as any cultural “youthquake”.
And the relevance to the Christmas story, perhaps, is this: that there is no reason, just because most people don’t yet understand the Bitcoin or “zone out” whenever it is discussed, to assume it is not important. In 20 years’ time it may well have changed the way the world works beyond all recognition.
Just think of how much the way pay for our shopping has changed in the last 20 years.
Just because most people don’t understand much about our faith, or chose not to bother with it – there is no reason to assume that it isn’t true – nor does it undermine the belief that Christ has transformed the world, even if it takes a lifetime to explore the new depths of truth that are being revealed for us.
As G.K Chesterton commented, a century ago,
“Christianity has not been tried, and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”
The indifference of others should not deter us from the light of truth which shines among us this night.
And so to “bottle deposits”.
I am old enough to remember carrying empty “pop bottles” – lemonade bottles – back to the Coop and being rewarded with a few pence to spend at the neighbouring newsagents.
This week proposals have emerged for a new system of deposits – this time on plastic bottles. And there may well be rewards and penalties for manufcturers – corresponding to the ease with which their packaging can be recycled.
All this comes on the back of the recent “Blue Planet” series –presented by David Attenborough, and examining the state of the world’s oceans and the damage done to them by our pollution – and specifically plastics.
Towards the end of the series Attenborough commented that we can now “see, more clearly than ever before”, the effects our collective lifestyle is having on the oceans and the various life forms that depend on them. And he mixes an optimism that, with determination and cooperation, we can reverse the damage relatively quickly, with a palpable frustration that people and governments seem unwilling to act – unwilling to believe what they can now see with their own eyes – preferring to carry on as before.
Again – there’s a resonance with the Christmas story.
As we heard, from the beginning of the Gospel of John, Jesus came into the world but
“his own people did not accept him”.
And later, in Chapter 3 we read that “people loved the darkness rather than the light … for all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.”
Clearly, it’s not a new problem then!
Simply showing people the reality of any situation will not convince them to act.
None of us like to face up to the fact that we are part of a problem
and may need to mend our ways.
But that, it seems, is exactly what we need to do – according to David Attenborough – if there is to be life on earth in the future.
That is exactly what we need to do, according the Gospel –
if we are to realise the vision of eternal life for which God created us.
Christ calls us to resist the temptation to hide ourselves away from the light – denying the uncomfortable truths we see – and, instead, to look up and see all that he makes plain for us, to look within ourselves, to look around us
and to act on what we see.
That calling is powerfully expressed in the Baptism service, when each new Christian is greeted with these words:
“You have received the light of Christ.
Walk in this light all the days of your life.
Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father”.
May Christ give us grace, this night,
to acknowledge our Christian calling –
to know ourselves to be “children of God”;
to live our lives in the light of his truth;
and to testify to his presence in the world
– that others might believe through us.