Welcome. Welcome to St. Paul’s Cathedral. We are delighted you are here with us on this holy night.
But you’ve been here before. Well, maybe not this place, or if you have been to the Cathedral, maybe it’s been a while. Or maybe you’ve sat on another church’s wooden pews (or folding chairs, as the case may be), and smelled the piney wreaths, or stared at the stained glass. And even if you’ve never stepped foot into a church until now, you’ve still been here before. Because as a child you knew that something great was happening on this night. Something you couldn’t explain but felt with great certainty. Then you waited expectantly beside brothers and sisters or cousins for your parents to finish dinner or get out of bed the next morning so you could open a present; then you let the music of the season write its melodies deep within you; then you wondered on a cold, clear night just what that wild star over Bethlehem would have looked like.
But you grew up, and like a shepherd you’ve roamed untamed hillsides and managed dangerous valleys trying your best to keep your flock and yourself together. It wasn’t easy, it isn’t easy. Some nights you awoke and only the great questions sat beside your bed. Other nights, you were surprised by the sense that God’s great Love wouldn’t let you go.
And when the angels came dazzling white and powerful and pointing toward a small stable on the outskirts of town, you drew near to that place, relenting, and put down your pack and gazed on the face of the Christ Child, quiet and vulnerable and unspeakably holy, and you were undone. There, there, you have been there before.
We have been here before, year after year, century after century, a people overcome by curiosity with the Child born two millennia ago. Come! Come closer and see! See his fingers tiny and perfect, his just-opened eyes. Hear a cow lowing, a sheep bleating, a donkey stomping. Take in the starlight radiating from this simple shelter, the relief on the face of the father, the calm love pouring forth from the mother. Warm your hands, wait for a nod from his parents, and place your fingers gently on his chest. Touch him.
It is unsteadying this memory that is not just another story in a book, or even another reading from the Bible, this memory that already resides inside each of us, housed deep and waiting for us to return and be made strong yet again by its blessed food. Now it is time to feast together.
In minutes we will invite the children to join us at the altar while we prepare the feast for God’s people. This is the feast of more than enough, the feast of plenty and then some, the feast that celebrates the day when God’s Son, God’s only Son, whom God loves, came to be among us.
Our elders once said that a little child would lead us. Here he is, where we have been before, this place where a memory will not fade but will only grow, inviting us again and again into the mystery of God-with-us, into the dear truth that God loves us more than we could ever ask or imagine. It is the truth that rings out in golden, glorious song on this cold, clear night when we search, and find, a wild star within the cosmos, a hopeful Light within the darkness, the Christ Child in a bed of straw.
We are never alone. God has been here before. To be with us. So come, young and old, and let us adore Him.
The Rev. Colin Mathewson
24 Dec 2013