25 December 2012

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light’

The First Christmas in a panel on the Oberammergau altarpiece in the Lady Chapel, Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford,

25 December 2012 (Christmas Day)

10.45, The Eucharist

The Chapel of the Mageough Home, Cowper Road, Rathmnes, Dublin 6.

Isaiah 9: 2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2: 11-14; Luke 2: 1-20.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

It is a wonderful pleasure to be here on a Christmas morning. As you probably know, the Chaplain [Archdeacon William Heaney] is not well, and the Manager [Alan Nairn] got in touch with me late on Saturday afternoon.

But it is still a pleasure for me to be here this morning. I was here for a quiet day with Archbishop Walton Empey before my ordination, and I have preached here once in the past. But I have not been here since the chapel was re-dedicated in October last year.

Coming here this morning was a short journey, but one of anticipation and wonder:

Slight anticipation, as any of us has when we find ourselves at an important event at short notice. Because celebrating the Eucharist on Christmas morning, celebrating the presence of Christ coming among us, is important, is about as important as it gets.

And wonder, not just because I was wondering how this chapel would look after all the work that has been done here recently, or because I was wondering who was going to be here this morning – and we have all lost some friends here in the past year – but also because Christmas still fills me with a sense of wonder and awe.

And so, it is always a privilege to celebrate the Eucharist, to share the presence of Christ among us on Christmas morning.

Do you remember the sense of anticipation and wonder you had as a child at Christmas?

That sense of awe and wonder never seems to go away, no matter how old we get, no matter – in some cases – how horrid other aspects of our childhood had been.

Nothing today ever seems to match the beauty and the glamour and the glitz of childhood Christmas lights, childhood Santas, childhood presents and love and warmth and care and affection … every tree a real tree, decorated with candles lights, and bundles of presents at its feet.

And we seem as adults to have constantly compared our present, adult Christmases, with our past, childhood Christmases.

Why, in our dreams, it seems that just as every childhood summer had long, sunny days, with wonderful times by the beach, every childhood Christmas was a white Christmas … deep and crisp and even.

But, of course, our adult experiences are often very different. We lose the awe and the wonder and the joy of Christmas as it becomes a chore … wrapping the presents, getting the cards posted in time, cooking the meals, answering the doorbell to a constant stream of visitors, often family members we never see otherwise from one end of the year to another, and so often tipsy while we have to stay sober.

And then there were the sad Christmases: when a child was sick, a job was lost, a loved one died.

But Christmas is always the promise of fresh beginnings, of a new start, of hope returning once again.

Remember how you were filled with awe and wonder on Christmas morning as a child, year after year. The expectations never faded, even when you knew that there had been times when things went wrong, even when things that went wrong could have robbed you of hope.

And Christmas is our image of God always being full of promise. God comes to us in the Christ Child with the promise of fresh beginnings, of a new start, of hope returning once again. God’s expectations for us, for the world, never fade, even when he knows that things have gone wrong, even when things that went wrong have robbed those he loves of hope.

There is a telling, short sentence at the end of our Gospel reading this morning: “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

At the heart of the Gospel narrative this morning is the understanding that things aren’t always going to work out the way we would like them to. But at the heart of the Gospel story of Christmas is the truth that God is always with us, and that God’s expectations for us, God’s awe and wonder at being in our presence, should be as much a source of mystery as our awe and wonder at being in the presence of God.

God bless you, may you have a happy and a blessed Christmas, and a New Year that is filled with the love and awe and wonder of God present among us.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer and Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin. This ser4mon was preached in the Chapel of the Mageough Home at the Eucharist on Christmas Day 2012.

The Mageough Home, Cowper Road, Rathmines, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Almighty God,
you have given us your only-begotten Son
to take our nature upon him
and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin:
Grant that we, who have been born again
and made your children by adoption and grace,
may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our Father,
whose Word has come among us
in the Holy Child of Bethlehem:
May the light of faith illumine our hearts
and shine in our words and deeds;
through him who is Christ the Lord.

The Chapel of the Mageough Home, Cowper Road, Rathmines, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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