Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Clear Midnight in Oldcombe

Sermon preached at the Carol Service at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis, Rochester.

“No white Christmas again, this year,” says Enid as she pulls on her thickest winter coat, “but then that’s not such a bad thing when we go out carol singing.”

The other members of the St Nicholas Church Choir nod in agreement as they too ready themselves with coats and hats and scarves and gloves.

When Sid has finally got his Christmas wellies on, the little motley band of carol singers hit the streets of Oldcombe City Centre.

It’s not an edifying experience.

Seven out of every eight houses do not even open the door. At least three times, the Choir notice the lights go out in the windows just before they get to the door. When the door does finally open, it’s shut pretty quickly again, usually with a word of abuse:

“We don’t believe that old story anymore.”

“Change the tune, it’s not relevant.”

“Charity begins at home!”

“Shut that row! I’m trying to watch the X-Factor Final.”

“Boring! Sing some Lady Gaga instead!”

And then it starts to rain.

But St Nicholas’ Church Choir struggle bravely on, despite the fact that Sid’s wellies are rubbing him raw, Barbara’s Santa hat has blown away in the wind, and Pauline is in sore need of a sit-down.

Finally, they come to a rather dingy part of town.

They knock on the door of a particularly shabby house and it’s answered by a young man holding his eighteen-month old daughter, who seems to be a very smiley baby.

The choir strike up with “It came upon the Midnight Clear” which makes the baby smile more, especially when Sid hits the wrong note.

Noticing their rather bedraggled state, the young man invites the group in for a warm-up.

It’s not an especially nice place at all.

The fire is really an old three-bar heater, there’s a strange smell coming from the sink in the kitchen and there are several patches of damp on the wallpaper.

“Please,” says the young man, “warm yourselves a little.”

Sid gives a sigh of relief as he pulls off the offending welly. Pauline sets herself down on a packing case which appears to be doubling up as an extra chair.

“Will you sing that song again about the Midnight clear?” says the young man.

The choir oblige, Sid even deliberately singing off-key occasionally to make the baby laugh. She does so very easily.

When the choir finish, the young man pulls out a wallet which has very few notes. It jingles a bit with lots of copper coins.

“Thank you,” he says and then looks confused. “Where is your collecting tin?”

“Oh we don’t bother with collecting tins,” says Pauline from her packing-case throne, “we don’t sing to collect money. Do we always have to do something expecting to be given something in return? There are lots of good charities out there collecting for needy people. We just sing to give the folk some Christmas Spirit, and we enjoy it!”

“But isn’t that a lot of effort for so little?” says the young man, trying to prevent the baby from posting her lego bricks in Tom’s beard, “I bet you come in for some stick!”

“That’s true,” says Tom, “so many people are so over-familiar with the words that they seem to have forgotten what they mean. People are always looking for new things, new tellies, latest phones, the speediest computers, so the old tunes and old songs just don’t matter to them.” “Why then do you do it, if your old ways are so irrelevant?” “Ah,” says Enid, “the old ways are not irrelevant! The old story may be getting older, but it is not getting less true. The Carols don’t need to change. For us, the Birth of Jesus is a great joy, even more so in times when it seems to be the least relevant. We go from house to house and are refused for exactly the same reason that St Joseph and Our Lady were refused. People just do not have room for Christ, so they don’t have room for us. But if we do not sing, how will folk hear the songs that the Angels in Heaven sing?”

“If God is so important, why do people not listen to Him?” asks the young man.

Tom shakes another lego brick from his beard, “Because people look but they do not see; they hear and they do not listen. Some people even go to church and sing the words but do not want to understand their meaning. Indeed, some songs that people sing in church these days are utterly meaningless because they change the story. God is important, but He gives us the choice as to whether to hear Him or not, whether to see Him or not, even whether to sing His song, or not. That’s because He sees us as important – so important in fact, that He comes to be born among us as a baby just to be one of us. Immanuel –God with us!”

“So we have to look for God in Christmas?” says the young man. “Well, he does come knocking,” says Sid, his feet now toasty warm by the fire and his carol sheet almost dry. “He often presents Himself with a knock. It’s your choice as to whether to open the door to Him or not. If only more folk would turn off the X-Factor and listen! If they did, then they’d hear something that would make much more of their lives. For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

“Wow,” says the young man.

“This old story’s worth the sore feet,” says Sid;
“It’s worth getting tired,“ says Pauline;
“It’s worth the abuse,” says Tom;
“It’s worth all this,” says Enid, “because it’s true! The ageless God is with us and He always will be.”

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

The baby coos and smiles.

She knows the song these angels really sing.

Do you?

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