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He came to his own and his own received him not

Revd Chris Moody, 24 December 2017, Christmas Eve, Midnight Mass

Each year a different phrase in this wonderful prologue to John’s Gospel carries trough straight into my heart. This year it is the phrase ‘he came to his own and his own received him not’. Such a sad phrase and so full of longing. It reminds me, at the same time, of so much that is going on around us in our own sad times. All the refugees forced to flee from their homes because of war and persecution, often from the very governments which should be protecting them; those still seeking a permanent home in their own neighbourhood after the fire in Grenfell tower; the homeless on our streets or surfing sofas for all sorts of different reasons, each with their individual story to tell which we don’t give the time to listen to.

‘He came to his own and his own received him not’. Christ came to his own town of Nazareth and they refused to listen to him because they thought they already knew everything about him. ‘’Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joses, Judas and Simon and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him’. Much like the attitude that people have to all religion in our own country: ‘We know all about it. We don’t need to hear it all over again.’

Woven into the Christmas story, as we are annually reminded, are the themes of poverty, threat, oppression, violence and powerlessness’. What does it mean that God took on the flesh of this little child, as week and helpless and as in need of protection and love as every child? Whatever the power of God is; whatever the divine existence and presence is, it is not power, being and presence as we normally understand these things: the power to shove people around, to include, exclude or ignore them, to worship them as celebrities or to dishonour and oppress them (actually there is not so much difference between the two attitudes; they’re both wrong).

‘He came to his own and his own received him not’ They simply could not recognize what God was offering. God became man and we simply did not recognize what he had given to us thereby in the depths of our own nature, but continued to behave as if we were all- as the materialists tell us we are- mere automatoms determined totally by our own background and biological inheritance. Resting in the assumption that we have no right to expect anything other than that life is a matter of the survival of the fittest, and therefore for the majority of us, nasty, brutish and short.

‘He came to his own and his own received him not’
Perhaps we refuse him because we know what the price is if we do let him in, and if we do let the Life that is in him truly enter our own. As Geoffrey Hill put it so beautifully in his poem ‘Lachrimae Amantis’ (The tears of Love)

What is there in my heart that you should sue? So fiercely for its love? What kind of care/ brings you as though a stranger to my door../Seeking the heart that will not harbour you?’
We know that if we truly open our hearts to that love, then it won’t just be a matter of stating what we believe and labelling ourselves and others as Christian or atheist, traditionalist or free spirit. We know it is to keep ourselves ‘religiously secure’, as Hill
puts it elsewhere in the same poem, to make religion our own comfort blanket, without regarding the challenge of other lives and other needs. We would rather shut that Love out, though we know deep down that it is the one thing we truly long for, the refreshment and renewal of the other loves we care about beyond the prison of our own selfishness and self-absorption.

When I was at school we used to sing and old song of Sydney Carter’s who died recently and is largely forgotten except for his hymn ‘Lord of the Dance’. It’s called ‘Standing the Rain’. Perhaps you remember it too

There he is again knocking on the window/ knocking on the window in the same old way

Here are some of the verses:

No use knocking on the window/There is nothing we can do sir/ All the beds are booked already/ There is nothing left for you sir.
No use knocking on the window/ Some are lucky some are not sir/ We are Christian men and women/ But we’re keeping what we’ve got sir.
No we haven’t got a manger/ No we haven’t got a stable/ We are Christian men and women/ Always willing, never able.

And the full chorus

Standing in the rain, knocking on the window/ Knocking on the window on a Christmas Day/ There he is again, knocking on the window? Knocking on the window in the same old way.

God give us the grace this time to let him in. Amen

Chris Moody, preached on Christmas Day 2017 at St Alfege’s

Revd Chris Moody, 24/12/2017