St. Ignatius NYC Logo

Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church

An Episcopal Church in the Anglo-Catholic Tradition Where All Are Welcome

The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve
24 December 2008

A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume

O God, who makest us glad with the yearly remembrance of the birth of thy only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that as we joyfully receive him for our Redeemer, so we may with sure confidence behold him when he shall come to be our Judge; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Isaiah 9:2-4, 6-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:4-11
Luke 2:1-20

Tonight we are presented with a mystery. Tonight God tells us that he has acted decisively to strengthen and expand his relationship with Creation. He has acted decisively to reconcile humanity and divinity. He has acted decisively to show us the strength of his love and faith in and for us. Tonight God shines his light into a broken and troubled world and asks us to follow him, follow that light, towards the realisation of his kingdom, the realisation of the lordship of love. But how? In and through whom? We might imagine that all this power, all this light, all this energy, all this strength must come in a form easily recognisable, in a form that the powers of the world will take seriously, in a form that will smash the powers of evil and hate to bits.

Our Advent watch has called us to be on the look out for this redeemer, this messiah, this anointed lord of all things. We have been looking for a mighty act, a thunder clap, or the appearance of a knight on horseback or perhaps even an army. We have been looking for the promised one who will show us who we really are and
who we might become.

Tonight we stand in the darkness and uncertainty and fear of a particularly difficult Advent, an Advent filled with the doubts and fears of economic turmoil and political change, we look all around us, but straight ahead, for the coming of the Son of Man. We stand as that Watchman looking to see “the signs of promise” and something tugs at our trouser legs, tugs at our hems, and we look down and see that the one whom God has sent, the one whom Isaiah foretold as the “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” And the one with these great titles, this great promise, is a child, a newborn infant, swaddled by his mother to make him feel safe. Tonight the light of God shines out of a manger, an impromptu bassinet. Tonight the light of God, the promise of a new world and a new dawn that will drive away the fears of a long dark night is amongst the most vulnerable creatures in all the world.

Only God, our God, could conceive to reconcile the world to himself in the form of one so vulnerable, so fragile, in the form of a child. Like the servant and the shepherd—both images we use for God in Christ—the child is one on the margins of Roman society, someone of little importance, someone not considered worthy of attention until it became clear that the little one would survive to adulthood. It is Jesus, God in Christ, who shows us in and through his Incarnation to value those previously considered to be of little importance, it is God in Christ who shows us that God acts in and through those who hitherto had had no voice, no power. It is God in Christ who came among us as a little child, born into the world in the same way as each and every one of us, who, in his Incarnation, affirms the goodness of creation, the goodness of humanity, and the importance of what transpires here on earth.

God, our God, is always acting in surprising ways. God, our God, is always taking the unexpected path and showing us how good, how love can emerge from unexpected places and unexpected situations. God takes the seemingly unremarkable birth of a baby boy to a young Jewish woman on the far reaches of the Roman Empire and sets in motion a process that will change the world, sets in motion a process that will allow all the peoples of the world to enter into relationship with the God of Israel.

Tonight, out of the darkness, God calls out to the shepherds and to us to look down and see the child in the manger, to see that “I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people ... [for] to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you” and, most importantly, he tells us, “be not afraid.”

Yes, in and through this strange and frightening event, an event in the midst of strange and frightening time, God calls us out of the darkness and into the light of the manger, to move away from that place of fear and into a place of hope. God, in the voice of the angel tells us not to be afraid of this new thing, this unexpected event. God asks us to face the improbable messiah and all the power he brings without fear and, indeed, to look upon the new born baby, as one might upon one’s own, with a sense of joy and hope and love and awe. God asks us to see love at work in and through the circumstances that produced that very real fear and to move forward in hope and love, moving towards the manger, towards embracing the child, embracing the new reality, the reality that Love has truly broken into our world and is at work in the person of Jesus Christ, at work in the world, at work in us.

This is the mystery of the Incarnation, that in the midst of troubled times, as troubled today as they were in that corner of Roman Judea, God acts to reconcile all things to himself, all things to love. God comes and meets us where we are, in the midst of our lives, and becomes united with us. Tonight God in Christ sanctifies all creaturely reality by coming among us in the unexpected form of a child, of a servant, of a shepherd, and really and truly shows us that the image and likeness of God does lie within us, ready and able to respond and act with a profound “yes,” a profound “amen,” to God’s call to ministry in the world. This night we are called to enter deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation and see and feel and know that God in Christ is indeed present with us and that when love is so strong, when hope is so real, that there is nothing to fear.

Andrew C. Blume+
New York City
“O Virgo”, 23 December 2008

©2008 Andrew Charles Blume