Sermons from St Faith's
An 'X-rated' Christmas
Kelley, Christmas Midnight, 2011
There’s a story
of a boy who goes into a church with a stone in his hand. He looks
up at the Altar and above it sees the words “Glory to God in the
Highest”. He throws a stone at the window and as it smashes the
glass, a letter is removed. The words now read “Glory to God in the
That story is attributed to someone in the Iona Community; a story
intended, I’m sure, to bring home the fact that the message of
Christmas is not just for those in a church building but those ‘out
there’ too – in the High Street, the Highways and Byways.
Glory to God in the High Street goes back even further. C. S. Lewis
used to talk about ‘Glory to God in the High Street’ and the ‘spirit
of X-mass’ rather than the spirit of Christmas. To what extent does
our pre-Christmas behaviour fit well with a baby born in a stable in
Bethlehem, two thousand years ago, with no home, as a refugee.
There's something that doesn't connect between the commercialism of
our Christmas and the real bare simplicity of the story of the Birth
You could be forgiven for thinking that Christmas is just about
spending – for many Christmas starts in early November and as the
weeks go by the shops get busier and more and more are tempted to
spend money they do not have. They average cost of the family
Christmas Dinner, we are told by the Daily Mail, is now £142.
Something like £800+ is spent on the average family Christmas
presents. For what? What do most people think they are doing when
they spend that money? Glory to God in the High Street indeed!
But going back to C. S. Lewis and his “X”-mass. I wonder how many of
you are tempted, particularly in text messages, to leave Christ out
and put an X in instead? Happy Xmas we say in our cards. Do you give
Christ his full name, or do you abbreviate it?
If removing the letter ‘E’ creates a new meaning to a well-known
church phrase, I wonder what the letter X conjures up?
Perhaps the ‘X’ Factor is the most obvious – though I can’t admit to
being a fan of it. I’m too old! In mathematics X is often used to
represent unknowns; we talk of Generation X. Many text messages
conclude with an X to denote a kiss; many of our letters and cards
include anything from one to 4 or more x’s, depending on how much
you like or fancy someone!
And the use of the letter X can denote something shocking and awful.
X-rated films are not what you will be probably watching with the
family tomorrow afternoon! At least, I hope not!
If you had to use film classification, what label would you give
Christmas and the Christmas story? I’m sure you would say U –
Universal, for all. That is indeed what the message of Christ in the
Crib is – he is born of the Virgin Mary for the whole of humanity
and for our salvation.
So we might place a U on the outside notice board next to the 6pm
Christingle Service. It is for all; no matter how young or old. And
our congregation reflects that. It is a happy service with the
message very much geared to the young though applicable to all.
How might we categorize Midnight Mass? Perhaps 12A? It’s not
that you need to be 12 to come, but very much younger than that and
you may not be awake at midnight. And for safety, we wouldn’t expect
a 12 year old to come to this service on their own. Accompanied by
an adult most definitely. 12A it is.
And tomorrow at 11? Back to the U, I guess. No reason why children
might not come unaccompanied.
Unlike those unpleasant films, there’s nothing X-rated about our
That’s not quite true..... The danger is that we concentrate so much
on this universal message to all ages, dressed up all cosily in the
Crib, that the full horror of it escapes us.
For if you were to come to Church on Boxing Day – more properly St.
Stephen’s Day – then the message is most definitely X-rated. We are
confronted with bloodshed and martyrdom as we recall how Stephen was
the first Christian martyr, the first to witness to Christ by being
put to death. Perhaps not a U or 12A; being killed for the faith
isn’t something we would want to focus on at a children’s service.
But Christianity is of course, X-rated. It’s shocking, it’s
gruesome, it’s costly, it’s painful. Turn it round 45° and that
X has become a Cross. And that baby placed in the manger is to be
nailed upon it until his life expires. That is the full, adult,
reality of Christmas. A far cry from ‘Glory to God in the High
Street’ and the carols round the Tree. This is the grown up message.
G. K. Chesterton said: “Christianity has not been tried and found
wanting, it has been found hard and not tried.”
Many people might indeed be dreaming of a white Christmas; but for
many more there is the acute loneliness of the “Blue Christmas”
about which Elvis Presley sang. There is the horror of war, still –
despite what Mr. Obama says. Christmas won’t exactly be merry for
many people in Christchurch, New Zealand, for those servicemen and
women in Afghanistan. And many, when Christmas is over, will face
the awful horror of how to pay for it!
The un-edited version of the Christmas story is depicted in T. S.
Eliot’s “The Journey of the Magi” when, the wise men returning home,
the question is asked:
....were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
As we come to the Altar tonight, we see birth and death. We receive
birth and death. For each time the mass is celebrated “We proclaim
the Lord’s death and resurrection until he comes again.” The Blessed
Sacrament we receive is a broken body; broken on the cross for
broken people in a broken world. That is why a cross is always
placed above, on or near an Altar. We receive new life from God in
the Holy Sacrament, but life given at a cost.
T. S. Eliot speaks of an alien people clutching their gods. The
frantic mad shopping speaks of a world of folk worshipping the gods
of fashion, consumerism, glamour and wealth. Glory to God in the
Eliot’s wise men returned as changed people. Their eyes had been
opened to reality. But how will we return to our homes tonight? Will
our encounter with birth and death change us in any way? Will we be
strengthened in our discipleship to follow the Lord more faithfully,
even unto death, as St. Stephen did?
True discipleship may be bitter sweet; but the love we glimpse in
the Crib tonight is the love freely available to us and the whole
world. And it is a love which continues beyond the grave, thank God.
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?
Angels and archangels may have
cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,
worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
Will your Christmas be ‘sealed with a kiss?’ This year make your
Christmas X-rated. And if that ‘x’ is short-hand for a kiss – just
how much love will you return to God and share with those around
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