Sermons from St Faith's

The Generosity of God
Fr Neil Kelley: Christmas Midnight Mass 2007

One of the things that has pleased me this Christmas is to receive a number of special gifts from people. Nothing new, you might say! But there are gifts and gifts. And whilst I can’t pretend I’m not grateful for the odd bottle of wine or boxes of calories under the form of chocolate, (for my guests, of course) there have been some special gifts this year. Namely, gifts given to people in greater need than me via the Waterloo Partnership, that excellent scheme which is going from strength to strength linking Waterloo, Liverpool with Waterloo, Sierra Leone. Quite a few school uniforms have gone there on my behalf thanks to the generosity of others.

Because quite honestly how many of us here tonight really needs anything? (OK, you can think of some things, I’m sure). Yet, we spend so much energy, to say nothing of hard cash, trying to fill these days with frenetic activity; shopping, spending, shopping, spending, worrying, shopping, shopping….  and it’s all God’s fault. Christmas is his idea!

You’d be forgiven for thinking that food will be rationed in the New Year, if you look at the way some trolleys are piled high in the supermarkets and all because the shops are closed for one whole…… day…..

Each year Christmas proves to be a double-sided coin for many people. On the one hand the joy and the happiness which rightly belongs to such a great festival; and on the other hand the real pain, anxiety and despair which so many suffer; some very acutely and, it seems, un-necessarily. The pain of a first Christmas without loved ones… forthcoming surgery… unwanted retirement… redundancy… on-going poverty and lack of any real quality of life... People living with AIDS and HIV. These are some of the many problems which seem to beset us no matter how hard we try or how often we pray. And more shockingly is the way we take most of this for granted now. Where is God in all of that some say? God knew what he was doing when he became human; it showed he didn’t want to distance himself from suffering humanity but to stand with it, by it and in it. That’s what the Cross teaches us. Where is God? He’s in the mess. He’s in the pain.

If the information given us is correct there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who are forced to endure lives of abject poverty—poverty so acute that those of us fortunate enough to live here can scarcely comprehend its meaning

Last month we read in the papers that spending on plastic in the UK was expected to exceed £20bn at Christmas. We don’t just spend the money we have, we spend the money we don’t have.

But poverty doesn’t just belong to another country. The task of the church isn’t just to be generous to others. We need to be generous to one another, and I am not speaking about cash!

The forces of evil are not necessarily ‘out there’, in another religion, in another language or creed. The forces of evil are in you and me can be very real if we are not careful. All churches and institutions will have those driven by ambition who lust after power; those who think they are more important than others. Think about the ridiculous message a board carrying the names of Vicar’s and Warden’s gives out. Are they the only people to serve the church? Are those the only worthy jobs done for the Lord?

Those closest to Jesus were sometimes control freaks: they argued about who was to sit with him on his left or right. The irony is that the only two actually given those close positions were crucified with him at Golgotha.

What matters is not the letters we have after our name, or whether we paid a vulgar amount to be educated somewhere posh, or whether we belong to the right social gathering or do our shopping at Waitrose! None of that matters at all in God’s eyes – sorry if you have spent your life climbing up the greasy pole – it doesn’t reach all the way to heaven!
What really matters, what the true message of Christmas is about, is having the guts to embrace the possibility of change which God offers to us. God’s coming to earth to be with his people was not a one-off event some 2000 years ago. We celebrate his coming tonight. The greatest present is his presence. We celebrate his presence at every mass when consecrated Bread and Wine are shared. We celebrate his presence every time we say sorry to him and ask for his forgiveness. And we celebrate his presence every time rifts and quarrels are healed and enemies become friends.

We cannot truly live out the full implications of the Christmas Message with proud and full hearts, with pretence or fantasy. Look closely at the Crib. Humility, honesty, simplicity and emptiness were the hall-marks of the first Holy Family and will always be the authentic hall-marks of any genuine Christian Family.

That’s why those who may be giving one or two gifts worth, literally,  a couple of pounds if that, and those receiving, literally, one or two gifts, are those who will certainly get closer to the true Christmas message than I will.

The crib speaks to us of the overwhelming, abundant generosity of God.

It’s not a generosity to be found in bank accounts or plastic. It’s a real generosity!

There is something overwhelmingly beautiful about that kind of wild generosity, and perhaps that is because it is when we are being generous that the image of God that has been planted in us shines forth most vividly. But even our own attempts at generosity, magnificent though they might be, can never match the reckless generosity of God. Christmas points us to the total self-giving of God in the child of Bethlehem.

In Jesus, God holds nothing back. He reveals himself to us in his totality. And the ministry of Jesus shows us endless examples of that generosity. It’s not good enough for Jesus to feed 5,000. He does so with such abundance that twelve baskets of food remain from the feast. It’s not good enough to turn water to wine at the Wedding in Cana. He provides such an absurd quantity of wine that the guests must have drunk themselves to oblivion.
It’s not enough to catch a few fish for breakfast. He enables a catch so huge that the nets are close to breaking. There is no limit to God’s generosity in Jesus. No matter what we ask for, no matter what we expect, God always gives us far, far more. He only deals in plenty. His generosity is boundless. It’s like bulk buying, you can’t just get a few ounces of God’s love, you get the whole box of it! And more left over!

It’s really important that we take seriously the question of what we can do for our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world: but there is a sense in which it is sometimes easier to deal with situations miles away and more difficult to deal with what is happening locally.

We are quite happy to pray for the peace of the Holy Land and then ignore the warfare we are part of on our own doorstep, often through evil gossip and rumour mongering. We are quite happy to talk about how there needs to be tolerance and understanding among people of different faiths and then ignore the fact we have fallen out with our fellow Christians and seem quite proud of the fact that it is “their” duty to make the first move.

Stubbornness and pride are not words in God’s vocabulary. They are not the messages of the Crib. Humility and peace, and most of all God’s generous and overwhelming love: these are the things the Crib speaks of.

It is that generosity we are called to receive and to share. And don’t forget, generosity is judged not by what we give, but by what we hold back. God holds nothing back from us, and so we have no excuse to hold anything of Him back from the world.

Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. Yes? We will sing it shortly - Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. Is it true? Let us be very clear – we cannot claim to be reconciled with God if we are not reconciled with our neighbour. That is also the message of Christmas that we cannot separate God and man. Those who have tried to do so down the centuries have been branded heretics!

Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel.

The good news of God’s generous and overflowing love, great joy of this holy season is meant for the poor, those who seek not to acquire possessions, but to listen to the voice of God. The good news of great joy is for Mary whose God looked with favour upon her low estate and humiliation. The good news is for the shepherds who hear the message of the angels and, rather than doubt it, actually believe it.
It can be good news of great joy for us too if we are among those to whom the kingdom is directed: the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are reviled on account of the Son of Man. The good news of Christmas is that God wants to dwell in our hearts.

Will you allow God to dwell in your heart this Christmas and will you do all that is physically in your power to enable him to be in the hearts, not just of the brothers and sisters whom we cannot see, but of our brothers and sisters who live around us?

Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled. That can be true, that can be the outcome of this Christmas celebration.”

As the words of the somewhat trite hymn put it: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me!”

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