Monday, December 25, 2017

Midnight Communion Service 2017

(I preached a similar version of this in 2016)

The self-humbling God who raises up the humble

Midnight Communion Sermon 2017 Dallington

Also used a similar version at Warbleton in 2016


Isaiah 9:1-7 (p693)

Luke 1:26-55 (p1026)


Little Johnny: Daddy, where did I come from?

Daddy: “well, birds and bees, mummies and daddies love one another… etc.

Johnny: because David says he comes from Scotland and I was wondering where I come from?]

I don’t know if Mary and Joseph ever had such conversations with Jesus.

Where did he come from?

Well, from heaven, of course.

How must it have been for Mary?

She was a youngster, engaged to be married to Joseph.

And we know he was a good guy.

She looked to have an ordinary happy life ahead of her.

And then completely out of the blue, God gives her this greatly troubling message that she can’t get her head around – at least to begin with.

And who could blame her for her fright and confusion?

An angel appears.

In the Bible angels are terrifying beings, not sweet girls with tinsel and drooping wings, but the fearsome messengers of God, warriors, even.

This divine emissary informs Mary that she will give birth to a son, who will be the Son of God, and who will be conceived in her by the Holy Spirit.

That’s quite some message to take on board!

She’s never asked for this.

It’s not what she had planned at all.

How will Joseph take it?

Or her parents?

Can you imagine even broaching the subject?

An illegitimate son will be the talk of the whole village.

A child out of wedlock would be a great scandal in Mary’s day.

And who’s going to believe her story about an angel and a virgin birth?

So I’m not sure Mary would necessarily have thought that this Christmas angel had brought unqualified good news!

Perhaps it seemed like a disaster.

She could imagine all her dreams crashing down.

Her life is ruined.

And it’s God’s fault!

Later in the gospel, Mary is warned that Jesus will be rejected and that a sword will pierce her own soul too.

She will watch as her son is crucified.

How can this be God’s plan?

And what’s good about it?

Although Jesus was a real, genuine human being, I expect being the Mother of God had its moments.

It’s not exactly normal!

Jesus was no ordinary boy.

Did Jesus walk on his bath water?

I suspect not, but Jesus must often have baffled his parents.

Having said that, in our readings, Mary quickly shows remarkable insight into this baby and what his coming will mean.

Whatever her doubts and questions, she’s quickly able to accept this impossible news.

And to see it as the most wonderful news.

Part of the reason for that, I bet, is that Mary knew her Bible.

The song which she sings here is very similar to the song that Hannah had sung centuries before, back in Old Testament book of the prophet Samuel, about the birth of her son, Samuel.

He too will be God’s servant.

It was another miraculous birth because Hannah and her husband had been unable to have children.

Hannah’s song ends by looking forward to a time when God will judge the whole world through his anointed king.

“Anointed” is the meaning of “Messiah” or “Christ”, the promised rescuer king who was specially chosen by God and who would put everything right and rule for ever.

Mary rightly understands Jesus’ birth as the fulfilment of Hannah’s hopes.

And Mary sings a kind of slightly adapted cover version of Hannah’s famous hit song.

At last, as Mary sings, all the ancient promises of God are being kept.

All the longings of God’s people will be fulfilled.  

The child in her womb is the culmination of all God’s purposes from the days of Abraham, 2000 years earlier.

He is the one chosen and marked out to bring in God’s kingdom in all its fullness.

God is, as Mary puts it, “remembering to be merciful”, as he said he would.

Jesus is the Son of David, the king who will be even greater than great King David of old.

Mary rightly sees the birth of Jesus as a revolutionary act which will lead to a great reversal.

Christmas is the scattering of the proud, she sings:

The bringing down of rulers from their thrones,

The sending of the rich empty away.

Think of wicked king Herod who just doesn’t get it, who rages against this Christ, and tries to kill him.

Herod is confounded.

His attempt to rebel against God is terrible, but it’s also ridiculous and pathetic.

God’s mighty purposes are unstoppable.

It’s both laughable and tragic for anyone to think they could stand in the way of God.

The powers that be are overturned but the humble are lifted up.

The hungry are filled.


Because God has come down.

He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all.

Christmas is the true story of the self-humbling of God.

The eternal Son of God has taken on flesh.

He has become a tiny embryo in the womb of Mary and then a helpless baby in a manger.

So that changes everything.

The revolution has begun.

Here in this insignificant corner of the Roman Empire, in the family of a peasant girl who can’t even get a room for the night, here is true might, true greatness.

If only the inn-keeper had known that he had consigned his creator to his out-buildings!

The presidential suite was inadequate for this baby.

In the humility and vulnerability of a baby, born out of love, to save us, is the fullness of the everlasting God.

Even as God the Son governs all things, he will cry out in hunger and fall asleep.

The one who upholds the universe will be held by his mother.

He who succours all things will nurse at Mary’s breast.

The King of Kings becomes helpless and dependant.

Soon he will be a marked baby, wanted, hunted, hated – and will flee as a refugee. 

Eventually he will die in our place so that we might be forgiven.

The humiliation of God.

This baby will utterly confound all human thinking.

He bursts our categories, to such an extent that we will do away with him.

He is so counter-cultural, so unexpected and unacceptable that he cannot be allowed to live.

Jesus will go down into the very depths of death for us, but he will be exalted to the highest place and given the name above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow.

In the topsy turvey kingdom of God, the way up is down.

Death leads to new life.

And so Jesus bids us come and die, that we might live.

Mary says, “He [the Lord] has filled the hungry with good things.”

That’s good news as we come to his table tonight.

We come to him empty handed and hungry and he will feed us.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means The House of Bread.

He was placed in a manger, an animal’s feeding trough.

Jesus is food – food for the world.

He would say, “I am the bread of life.”

He invites us to come and feast on him, in our hearts, by faith.

He is all we need.

He alone can really satisfy. 

Mary shows us the right response:

The response of obedient faith.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” she says.

“May it be to me as you a have said”.

It might not be as we’ve planned it, we might not understand it all, but Almighty God can do the impossible.

Christmas proves it. 

This Christmas, let us, with Mary glorify God and rejoice in God Our Saviour.


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