The following sermon was preached at the 10:00pm Festal Mass of the Nativity on December 24, 2019 at Saint James Chapel on the campus of Saint James School in Hagerstown, Maryland.
Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20
Collect: O God, You have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on Earth, may also enjoy Him perfectly in Heaven; where with You and the Holy Spirit He lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…”—Titus 2.11
In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.
I watched on Hulu two nights ago English screenwriter Steven Knight’s new fantasy-style adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. It is an adaptation that investigates the darkness of the season, the unhappy hearts thrown into relief by jollity, and asks who deserves their share of joy. Like the original novel, the story’s main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is a cold, bitter, miserly man who despises his fellow human beings and all that Christmas represents. He is visited by the Ghost of Jacob Marley, his seven-years-dead business partner, who warns him of the impending visit of three spirits, their Christmas Eve hauntings an offering to Scrooge the chance for redemption. He is confronted by visions of his past, present, and future in the hope that he accepts the redemption being offered and reconnects with humanity.
Two scenes particular to this adaptation stuck out at me. The first occurs before Marley’s visit to Scrooge. He is taken to Purgatory, where a blacksmith shows him the chains he forged in life—each individual link representing a man, woman, and child who died as a result of his and Scrooge’s actions—before being bound by them. Wandering through Purgatory, Marley meets the Ghost of Christmas Past stoking a bonfire. “I am…here to smoke out redemption,” says the specter. He tells Marley that his and Scrooge’s fates are tied—one cannot be saved without the other—because “it was with [Scrooge] that you profaned the soul of humanity.” It is then that Marley is commissioned to visit Scrooge to pave the way for him and the other two ghosts. “By the time this Christmas is ash,” says the Ghost of Christmas Past, “I must search the heart of Ebenezer Scrooge and find if there is a tender place there.”
The second is a conversation in Scrooge’s investment firm office between him and his nephew. For years the younger Scrooge has invited his uncle to come to his home for Christmas Day lunch and to meet his wife and children “whom [he has] never laid eyes on,” yet each invitation has proved futile. In what he believes might be his final ever meeting with his uncle, the younger Scrooge tells him that the reason he has offered the same invitation year after year after year, withstanding the rejection, was because of his late mother, Scrooge’s sister, who begged him not to give up on Scrooge. “You must forgive my brother,” he recalls her saying. “[Be patient with him.] He is just in pain. A very old pain.”
On this night the “grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…” (Titus 2.11) God Himself has miraculously, spectacularly, and physically appeared in the Person of Jesus Christ to offer us all eternal redemption. In Jesus “all the fullness of God [is] pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on Earth or in Heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” (Colossians 1.19-20) Not only do we celebrate the birth of Christ but because of it the beginning of the incorporation of our own stories—our hopes, our fears, our own joy and pain—into Christ, who, in turn, will bring into them and ourselves His Good News. Through the Christ Child we will be given true life and the ability to walk in love and carry on in this world.
That is why the remembrance of Jesus’ birth is important. Not only did Jesus’ birth take place at a precise time in history, but, like Scrooge’s nephew’s persistence, the Church recalls it again and again and again, year after year after year, proclaiming God’s loving purpose of becoming flesh and dwelling among us. Jesus has come to “[give] Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession…” (Titus 2.14) We remember Jesus’ birth at a particular time in history because God is still redeeming in our own time. In His coming we see His patience and love for us and in His redemption we receive our freedom from the old shackles of sin, pain, and spiritual death.
In coming to Jesus lying in the manger and staying with Him all the way to the cross and the grave, we will see in His Resurrection to life again the reason “to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” (Titus 2.12) We celebrate the joy of Christmas because of the reality of Easter. Hence, like the similarly linked fates of Scrooge and Marley, to follow this newborn Holy Child is to become linked to His most glorious fate. But, unlike Scrooge and Marley, Jesus does not need saving; it is we who need redemption. We cannot be saved without Christ. The newborn Christ is Perfect God and Perfect Man who has come to Earth that we “may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10) He has come not to smoke out redemption, but to freely offer it to us.
This night is the fulfillment of God’s proclamation to the crafty serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” (Genesis 3.15) Redemption was God’s intent from the earliest of days. In no way would God let sin and death have the final say. That is why God, like the three Christmas Ghosts, sent His prophets to call us back to Himself, to show us our need for redemption, and to announce the Messiah’s coming. And now tonight, God’s Promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, has come to save us because God truly loves us.
That, dear friends, is the Good News of Christmas. Jesus has come to offer Himself as the full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction to God for us. No matter what past pain you have either experienced or caused others and no matter what you have either done or not done, in the words of the old Prayer Book, “Ye who truly and earnestly repent…of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God…walking from henceforth in His holy ways,” the redemption the Christ Child tonight brings into the world He offers to you. This very fact should be our motivation to live the way to which God calls. In the Christ Child we will see that which is good and what the Lord requires of us, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God.” (Micah 6.8) To live in this way, the way of Jesus, is for God to find in us tender places, living lives of fervent gratitude.
As God said to Moses from the burning bush at Mount Horeb, we see now in the Christ Child: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people…and have heard their cry…I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…and to bring them up…to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3.7-8) God has come in Christ to liberate us from sinful domination. And just as it was for Scrooge at A Christmas Carol’s end, from henceforth “whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 1.17)
May we then, like Blessed Mary, Our Lady, treasure “all these things, pondering them in our heart” (Luke 2.19) to the end. How wonderful it is to be here with you to celebrate this magnificent event. Merry Christmas and may God bless us, everyone!
Unto us a Child is born: O come, let us adore Him. Amen.
 Lucy Mangan. “A Christmas Carol Review—Twee-Free Torment-Fest Is a Tonic for Our Times,” The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2019/dec/22/a-christmas-carol-review-twee-free-torment-fest-is-a-tonic-for-our-times), Web. Accessed December 23, 2019.