A Christmas Eve or Christmas Day Communion Service, experienced by many as Midnight Mass, is a tradition with a long history. In my years with you, perhaps three or four times we’ve had a late service at 10 or 11 PM on Christmas Eve, a small, quiet, contemplative communion service, and there is a unique sense of holiness to a Christmas communion which I hope we experience today.
download PDF here: Sermon_25Dec2022_Christmas Communion
I’ve also found, however, that a Christmas communion can be a bit challenging theologically. On the one hand we find ourselves expectantly tip-toeing our way to the manger to see the newborn Christ-child, filled with all the hopefulness we have at seeing any newborn for the first time. And on the other hand, we have the Lord’s Supper or, as I recall it being called in my growing-up years, the Last Supper, a sacred meal with a very different emotional range. Inherently, the space of a final meal prior to execution is a full 180 degrees removed from the happy hopefulness of the joyous expectation of Christmas.
In a playful way, this “theology gram” by Rich Wyld https://i.pinimg.com/originals/f1/49/20/f149205c6fb3aea369247445352cd057.jpg shows the intersection between Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth, and Luke’s story, and a standard nativity play. In the middle – the common details – are Angels, Bethlehem, Jesus’ birth, and the directive that the child shall be named Jesus. Nowhere to be found is the gospel of Mark, as it does not have an infancy narrative, and off to the side in its own circle is the gospel of John. Rich Wyld describes John’s story of the nativity as “complex stuff about the word and light and things.”
And true enough – John’s writing about the Logos and the way that the Word was present at the time of creation, and the embodiment of the Word as it “became flesh, full of grace and truth” is complex… but it also helps me reconcile my desire to tiptoe up to the manger, with my knowledge that this newborn, the one John calls “the Word made flesh”, will grow into the adult who traveled the countryside preaching a radical, peace-infused message of inclusive love, repentance and forgiveness, the one who was crucified but was limited by death.
If we embrace the notion of Christ as the Word made flesh, we enter into a saga without beginning and without end, a story in which God’s sacred desire for health and wholeness, equity and justice expresses itself over and over again. So rather than getting caught by the contrast between an infant at the beginning of life, and a sacred meal shared with companions near the end of earthly life, might we catch the notion of holy intention asserting itself repeatedly in every age and stage of life, in every happening in the life of the Israelites, in every re-set when religious folks embrace the call of Jesus in a new say, in the unfolding story of a world that keeps being reborn one seed, one shoot at a time. The Word became flesh and the Word keeps on being reborn every day and in every place, God’s joyous creative presence asserting itself every scene of delight even as God’s heartfelt companionship attends every scene of sorrow.
When Rev John Snow Jr and I were chatting prior to his Sunday here on December 11th, he mentioned a lecture he had been to in which the lecturer, a Hebrew scholar, pointed out that in the creation story (Genesis 1) the Hebrew says, “in A beginning” rather than “in THE beginning”, which similarly opens us to the idea that God’s activity in the world is expressed in many places, at many times, perhaps even in worlds beyond ours. To me, that maps onto this notion of the Word, the Logos, continually and continuously expressing its intention, even at times where we foolishly figure that we humans are the only ones doing anything.
This morning, then, as we receive the elements of communion, we are repeating the sacramental intention of Jesus, remembering him in our bodies as we receive these tangible gifts of grace – and we are celebrating the way that God is born into us, and the way that the Word became flesh in Jeshua-bar-Joseph, and the way that the Word became flesh when the earliest Christians took Christ’s message of love and refused to let it die. In life, in death, in life beyond death, the Word becomes flesh and dwells within us and between us and around us and beyond us. And in all of it, God becomes more real, love takes on the shape of human action, and our hope in Christ fills this moment, and the next one, and the next one.
In the sum total of what we do here today, and the eternal unfolding of the story of the Christ, may blessings abound. Amen.
original material © 2022 Rev Greg Wooley, Ralph Connor Memorial United Church