Midnight Mass: The Curmudgeon Preaches

Christmas: it is messy, mucky, muddy, radical, subversive.

It is about a world turned upside down;

challenging the cultural norms;

birthing a new society.

It is about celebrating the vulnerable,

bringing down the powerful,

surviving in the darkness of winter

and looking forward to the new life of a fresh year.


It is about family, yes,

but more importantly it is about growing a true community.

It is about the fragility of love and the scandal of a generosity so overwhelming that it involves giving away everything, even life itself.

It is filled with joy, but it should never be comfortable. Christmas is the grit in the dark heart of the oyster from which the pearl of great price is formed.


We are here at the deepest, bleakest time of the year

to celebrate something outrageously non-rational,

something that cannot be empirically codified,

classified, sanitised, marked as safe and shoved in a

laboratory drawer.


We are here to celebrate a shocking truth –

that God, the Divine, the primal force,

the Being existing before time,

through time and beyond time,

poured the very essence of his divinity

into the structures and systems

of the human genetic code,

broke out of infinity

to become locked into

the time-bound,

time-aged limbs

of a mewling infant,

born into a period and place

with poor medical facilities,

under a child-killing dictatorship

to a rebellious people riven by religious disputes,

mis-placed nationalistic pride

and an appetite for inciting destruction

from their brutally efficient

Roman overlords.


What we are celebrating is the mind-blowing outrageousness of the pre-existent God

risking every aspect of his divine nature

to become a helpless child –

liable to succumb to disease, malnutrition or mistreatment

simply for the love of his creation.


And not just love for the entire universe in all its

abstract beauty and complexity

but love for each and every individual element

of that creation –

each particle, atom, molecule,

each tree and insect,

each virus, each bird, each mammal

and every single human being who has lived,

is living, will live.

Love for us.


In the dark watches of a storm-blown night,

when the cold is twisting towards our hearts,

we are here to celebrate a pumping, beating

explosion of love

so radical, so generous, so all-encompassing

that it has inspired, and continues to inspire,

some of the greatest creative endeavours

of the last two-thousand years.


We hear that bit of the message –

Christmas is about love –

and we see the image of Mary and Joseph

peering adoringly at their new born son

and we translate it into

the celebration of cosy domesticity,

we turn it into a celebration of family togetherness.


And that’s fine.

As a starting point

But let me say again,

Christmas – Christ’s birth

is far more devastatingly radical than that.


Christmas is not about the making of traditions,

it is about the breaking of them.

It is about God smashing the rules

that say the Divine is the Divine

and human is human

and that the two cannot be one.

It is about the powerful embracing weakness

in order to save others and not themselves.

It is about risking to live for the sake of love.


It is not about giving what you can afford,

it is about giving everything you’ve got.

But it is also not about turning all the lights on now

leaving no energy or resources for future generations.

It is not about mistaking the outrageousness of God’s generous love

for an orgy of excess

because our excesses lead to the impoverishment of others

whereas God’s love is shared out equally among all.


Of course it is a good thing to spend time

sharing and celebrating family life,

it is good to give thanks for the relationships that sustain you,

it is good to take a break from the daily routine

and enjoy the energy of existence.

But Christmas is much, much more than that.

Christmas is about celebrating a uniquely imaginative act of creation.

We call it the Incarnation

but that is a label which cannot tame it.

We cannot, must not ever think that Christmas

can be boxed up like a carton of baubles,

shoved in a drawer and forgotten about until next year.

We cannot, must not ever think that Christmas

is about following the same traditions

– national, religious, local, family, personal –

over and again, year in, year out.


At Christmas God, the Creator,

is supremely creative.

He creates himself anew as us –

the Word became flesh and lived among us –

and in doing so he creates us anew

as beings loved completely and whole-heartedly by him.


Christmas is about creativity –

it is about daring to imagine the world in different ways.


Here is a passage from a writer in the second century who

took the risk not just of imagining the birth of Christ through Joseph’s eyes but also from a cosmic perspective.


Mary is in labour in the cave that is serving for their shelter

and Joseph has just left to find a midwife.

While he is searching Jesus is born:


‘Now I, Joseph, was walking, and yet I did not walk,

and I looked up to the air and saw the air in amazement.

And I looked up at the vault of heaven,

and saw it standing still and the birds of heaven motionless.

And I looked down at the earth,

and saw a dish placed there and workmen reclining,

and their hands were in the dish.

But those who chewed did not chew,

and those who lifted up did not lift,

and those who put something to their mouth

put nothing to their mouth,

but everybody looked upwards.

And, behold, sheep were being driven

and they did not come forward but stood still;

and the shepherd raised his hand to strike them with his staff

but his hand remained upright.

And I looked at the flow of the river,

and saw the mouths of the kids over it and they did not drink.

And then suddenly everything went on its course.’*


Now that’s Christmas – all time both stopped and flowing together all in an instance.

All creation channelled into the birth of a baby.


And that’s in the spirit of Christmas –

daring to imagine and to describe the unimaginable.


So that’s the challenge of Christmas.

To be imaginative, to be creative

to see the world with fresh eyes,

to throw out the stale comforts of safe traditions

and dare to dream about how

this world can be a more loving,

more caring, more cooperative place.


Live in time and out of time,

go beyond the repetitive rhythms of these venerable carols

and the infernal loop of Slade and Wizzard, Santa Baby,

chestnuts roasting over open fires and cavalry stopped,

and reach out beyond the comfort of the known

and use your mind, imagination, skills and experience

to do one thing, any thing to share the divine generosity of love with creation.


Christmas marks the turning of the year,

the moment when the days lengthen

and light begins to come back into the world.

Be part of that light –

be creative, imaginative, generative.

Somewhere in your make-up

are molecules that once belonged to

that baby born in the Bethlehem stable.

God’s Word is written like graffiti on your flesh:

live as if you are part of the story.


*‘The Protevangelium of James’, ch18, trans James, M.R. in Elliott, J.K. ‘The Apocryphal New Testament’, OUP, 1993, p64


2 thoughts on “Midnight Mass: The Curmudgeon Preaches

  1. An interesting read ….I’m particularly taken by the last paragraph…hope you don’t mind but I’m going to pinch it for the last page of 366!…well either that or a short extract from Moominsummer Madness…

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