Sermon given at the Christmas Carol Service (24 December 2018) by the Revd Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor
On Christmas Eve, the Canon Pastor reminds us of the heart of the Christmas story: that God is with us.
Caught up in the antics and trickery of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor, I laughed with the rest of the audience. The new production by the RSC is a colourful compendium of comedy, dance and song, reminiscent of a traditional British pantomime, and so, entirely befitting of the season.
But if you were to ask me which my very favourite Shakespearean play is I’d be almost certain to choose a much different piece of theatre –Shakespeare’s’ dark tragedy Hamlet.
We had an excerpt from its opening scene as our first reading.
The play begins on the battlements of the walled city of Elisnor with two soldiers, Marcellus and Bernardo, and their companion Horatio. They three are almost terrified out of their wits…for such were the times that even the dead could not rest easy.
In the midst of their dread, however, comes a promise of hope – somewhat tentative, half-understood, half-remembered. Marcellus voices it:
“Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated,
This bird of dawning singeth all night long…
..So hallowed and so gracious is the time.”
He’s pointing to this, the season of the nativity - and the unrelenting hope at its core.
To which Horatio replies, ‘So I have heard, and do in part believe it.’
Like the fictional subjects of Elsinor, we too live in ‘interesting times’. So as we celebrate this year, may the glorious feasting, lights, decorations, gatherings and carols point us, as they always do at their best, towards the hope at the heart of this season.
The hope which came among us 2,000 years ago, to a world and a nation in turmoil, beset with anxiety and divisions.
Hope rooted in the coming of God to us – to a young woman, an uncertain foster-father, to local shepherds and travelling Magi – and to us, the whole assorted mix of humanity.
God with us and for us.
God for all of us, whoever we may be and however we find ourselves; impoverished, rich, joyful, grieving, employed, retired, brexiteers, remainers; bearing great responsibilities or powerless. God with all of us.
For some, in our personal circumstances, or in the challenges we face as a world, as a nation, the time may seem to be somewhat ‘out of joint’– but
it is precisely for such a season and all such seasons that the Christ child came.
And precisely for people like us and even, maybe especially, for those of us who, like Horatio stand hovering on the threshold of belief.
There is, I believe, something truly real about Christmas: gritty, joyful and wondrous –in the midst of a world which still experiences the darkness of conflict, human need and natural disaster.
It was to such a world that God came and still comes. Light into our darkness. Which is why Christmas remains a season ludicrous with hope. The hope which keeps the bird of dawning singing through the night - in anticipation of the sunrise.
So may the One who comes fill us with all comfort and joy, that we may be ready to receive him.
And may we who receive him join with the bird of dawning until we have sung the longings of hope into being – not only for ourselves but for others too – not resting until hope is shared by all.
So on this holy night, in this hallowed and gracious time,
may the joy and persistent hope of the season be yours.