Rev. Andrew Cunnington
24th December 2013
In Anticipation Of This Night

“What do you like doing best in the world Pooh ?” asked Christopher Robin one day.

“Well” said Pooh, “What I like best is….” And then he had to stop and think because although eating honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it, which was even better than when you were.

But, for the life of him, Pooh Bear did not know what that moment was called.

At the end of church tomorrow, I shall walk through the door of the Vicarage and will smell the Christmas dinner, and that moment to me, will be more magical than when I actually sit down to eat.

I love presents round the tree as yet unopened, crackers waiting to be pulled, candles not yet lit.

For to me, the magic of Christmas is caught in the build up.

As we speak, Mary and Joseph are looking for somewhere to stay.

Right at this moment, the regular night time routine of the shepherds is about to be rudely interrupted.

There are kings on the road tonight and in the next hour, they will look up and become gobsmacked by a star in the sky they had never ever seen before.

Midnight Mass people like you and me come to hover on the edge of Christmas Day with these well loved characters, to be alongside the Christmas story, right now as it unfolds. To share with them, this night time pilgrimage to the stable, hearts beating wildly in anticipation of what God is going to look like, as he models himself upon you and me.

Because what Pooh Bear said is so true “Eating the honey is a very good thing to do, but there is a moment, just before you begin to eat it, which is better than when you are”…

The moment of anticipation.

As we get older maybe it’s harder to feel Christmas as magic. For it gets bound up in shopping lists, things to do and people to see, so that we don’t get the chance to pause in the moment just before and anticipate the glory of such a coming as this.

Midnight Mass isn’t what it used to be. Do you remember your first one? I recall a church stacked to the rafters with people, not a seat to be had, and the joy, the crazy joy of being a little boy in the choir in the middle of the night whilst Father Christmas circled overhead with all the toys. Even the arrival of revellers from the pub just before communion could not diminish, the excitement of the anticipation of it all.

But, then we blink and it’s all gone. The meal is eaten and all that’s left is washing up. The presents are opened and there’s wrapping paper everywhere, and down at the church, behind locked doors, Mary and Joseph and the rest, stand silently amidst the hay gazing down at the porcelain child.

“I wish it could be Christmas every day,” sings Roy Wood’s Wizzard “When the bells start ringing and the band begins to play”

Maybe that crazy tune of endless Supermarket queues hits down deep to the heart of Christmas spirituality, that all I’ve been talking about is not sentimental nothingness, but actually the truth, that we are called to live our lives, daily, by the moment even, in anticipation of God.

And actually, whether you can do this or not depends on which of the Christmas kings have their hold over you.

I’m not talking about the Magi on their camels for they will not be with us for the best part of a fortnight yet.

Rather, I’m talking about Jesus in the manger or Herod in the palace.

Two kings from which we might make a choice.

Herod, is the more eye catching. Living in a palace, sitting on a throne, wearing fine robes, surrounded by pageantry and protocol. He’s at home this evening, did you know that, and there is a sumptuous feast for all loyal citizens who care to turn up. You can slip out during the prayer, no one will notice you gone. It’s dead easy to become a follower, there’s a welcome pack with all sorts of special offers, right there on the door!

In comparison, Jesus is a highly improbable king. From the wrong sort of stock to begin with, parents not married I understand, and for people like you and I, a dirty old stable does not quite provide the right trappings.

And yet, when Herod gets his teeth into you, there will be no turning back. He rules with a rod of iron, he only wants what’s best for himself, and if you step out of line he’ll be round to your door and ready to cause mayhem. You will live your life with plenty of anticipation, but it will be the anticipation of fear and suspicion and hurt. And joking apart, Herod is alive and well in the world.

I had a dear friend who was a pretty normal sort of guy except for when he was walking along the street. For when he walked along he would always tread gingerly and always have his face to the ground. “You can’t be too careful” he said to me when I asked him about his peculiar trait “ Thirty years ago I fell over an uneven paving stone, and I’m not going to let it happen again”. He lived with plenty of anticipation, but it was the anticipation of the fear of falling.

And that’s how Herod will hold you if you sign up with him. He’ll teach you never to trust a single living soul.

The kingship of Jesus will need a lifetime to take shape in you. You will need to keep company with him as he grows and you will need to be ready to leave palace comforts behind in favour of the open road, but if you follow, if you listen in to what he says, if you take notice of the way lives get changed, you will see a new way to live, and this will generate a trust and an optimism in you that no oppression will be able to stamp out.

For the kingship of Jesus is not based on fear from falling, but the joy of rising!

When the angels sang, they did not do so just for shepherds, but for us all.

“Fear not said he for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind.(Herod had got hold of them) Glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind”(Jesus offers a startling alternative)

Jesus is born that we might live in anticipation of hope rather than fear, that the trappings of this Christmas night, which you and I love so much, may reach beyond themselves to a way of seeing life that permeates every day, not just Christmas day.

I cannot offer you Winnie the Pooh’s honey jar tonight, but I do invite you to put out your hands in anticipation of receiving something much better, the Christ Child to make your own in the form of bread and wine, and the moment before you receive, let time stand still for a second, anticipate his love for you, and live every moment after with similar expectation.

As Noddy Holder sung so raucously but so truly:

“So here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun. Look to the future now, it’s only just begun!”

LUKE 2:1-16