THE DEAR CHRIST ENTERS IN – CHRISTMAS DAY 2011

In various ways the Gospel stories of the birth of Jesus treat the topic of welcoming or rejecting the Divine Guest. Are we the innkeeper or the shepherds? King Herod or the Wise Men? As St John puts it, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But unto them who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become sons of God”. The God who enters his world as the child of Mary seeks to enter the little world which is each single human being: he wants to come as guest into my world, my life; he wants to come as guest into your world. The story we tell tonight, full of wonder and imagination, seeks to become personal and real, not in some fantasy past but in my present reality and in your present reality. He knocks, and awaits our welcome. Love the guest is on the way.

God is persistent. He will not come in without our invitation, but he is persistent in knocking. One of the things we are celebrating today is just how much God wants us, how far he is prepared to go to get us. “All I want for Christmas is you” – that is God’s Christmas song, and it is amazing and terrifying. “Rise to adore the mystery of love“. Such love scares us, because we know we don’t merit it, and feel we can’t return it with anything like adequacy. So we resist letting him in. We even go so far as to convince ourselves that we can hear no knocking; that there cannot be anyone there to knock. But God is persistent, and is humble enough to resort to whatever stratagem it takes to gain our welcome.

This time of year is unsatisfactory in many ways, of course. Much of the good humour is superficial, the cheerfulness artificial, the charity limited and passing. However, we ought not to write it off completely. Anything that opens our hearts to other people, even if only to family and friends, is in some measure an opening to God. The desire to share good things, to live in peace and harmony, to make the world a bit brighter: these things open the door of our hearts and God can get a foothold.

Presumably we are all here tonight because in some way we have opened the door and let God in to our world. And we discover that this guest is that dreadful thing, a nosy and pass-remarkable guest. My late aunt had a great interest in other people; if she visited, especially in a new house, she would want the tour – to see everything and make a comment. And that’s the sort of guest we find God to be. We would like him to stay in the parlour where we have tidied up, and he insists on seeing the bedroom and the bathroom – not the polite guest one but the working one with the spilt toothpaste and the grime around the sink. He wanders into the closed rooms which have become dumping grounds for all kinds of rubbish, revealing our everyday chaos. I suppose the path of progress in Christian life is the gradual allowing of our guest to see and touch our whole lives, the nice bits and the naughty bits, the bits we are proud of and the bits which fill us with shame. We fear this, because we know it will demand a bit of work in tidying and redecorating; and while it will be worth it in the end we are naturally inclined to remain in our familiar mess.. Welcoming our guest tonight, perhaps we need to allow him a free hand in our whole life.

There is a saying that guests in a house are like fish; after three days they begin to go off… Our divine Guest  does not want to simply have an hour or an afternoon; he wants to stay for good. And if he does come to stay, then he will want to put his mark on the whole house. When St John talks about becoming the children of God, this is what he means: that looking at us and the lives we lead, people see the influence of the Divine Guest. How many look at me, or you, who can say: “That’s where God lives”? How many can even say, “God is trying to live there?” Sometimes we resist our Guest so much that he might as well have stayed outside.

So we gather to celebrate this “mystery of love”, to rejoice in God’s persistence in coming into our worlds, our lives; in making his home in our whole selves, for ever. This is the sacrament which proclaims the extent of God’s love, the sacrament by which he draws near to knock at our door, to seek entrance to the deepest, darkest recesses of our heart, there to abide until our whole person is full of him. As we open our hands to receive the Bread of Life, and open our mouths to receive the Cup of Salvation, so may we open every door in our hearts and make Emmanuel, God-with-us, welcome guest in this blessed hour; welcome guest in every hour of this holy season, and beyond.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin and enter in,
be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
our Lord Emmanuel!

 

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