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Included as one of the crowd

Midnight Mass of the Lord's Nativity 2006 Christmas sermon preached at the Grosvenor Chapel

25 December 2006 12:00 | Fr. Roderick Leece

We gather tonight in what is described as fashionable or exclusive Mayfair, and in the smartest quarter. I'm not sure how healthy the idea of being exclusive is though. Many London clubs are, by definition exclusive…that is part of their attraction. I walked past Annabel's at about 11.30 pm earlier this month, and although it is clearly an exclusive venue, I was pleased to observe an egalitarian fairness in the queue…which consisted of couples in their 70s, 60s, 50s, 40s and so on. It cannot be accused of ageism. Plastic surgery and beauty treatment, once the exclusive preserve of Hollywood stars, is now an affordable gift for a loved one… (though this is no appeal for the wealthy amongst you to send me off to a tricologist for a mercy hair transplant…or is it?!) That enclosure at Ascot… those good tickets for Wimbledon or Glyndebourne…the business class airport lounge and seats… the fashionable Bond Street shops…the Michelin starred restaurants…the beauty industry catering for a wealthy clientele…that exclusive vintage port or champagne (and I'm not saying being Rector of St. George's has not given me the chance to sample vintage Dom Perignon for the first time during this last year!) Of course I understand the lure and attraction of exclusivity…though I hope I am wary, or at least cautious of it…I hope I'm not totally captivated by it.

The panto season started early for the Church of England - I've been chuckling away most of Advent about the Bishop of Southwark seemingly well oiled in a back alley called Crucifix Lane after what will now next year (no doubt) be THE most exclusive of all parties - at the Irish Embassy. It seems that party gives you such a sense of having 'arrived', that you leave looking very much like a Bishop and have the confidence not just to climb into the back of any old car (such as a Ford Fiesta) but into the back of a Mercedes and then chuck kiddies toys about. Oh Yes he did…Oh No he didn't! It has all been such fun…and so a warm welcome to anybody who might have staggered in here tonight from a party as good as the Irish lay on.

As members of the Church of England we can be justly proud of Anglican inclusiveness…but this is increasingly under threat from what has been called (by fellow evangelicals) the Hizbollah wing of fundamental evangelicals who recently have shown their cards and seem to be planning a smash and grab raid on Anglicanism…erecting all sorts of barriers which would leave the Church as little more than an exclusive puritan sect. But with a hijacked definition of purity which many here would find revolting. The default setting for an Englishman or woman is that the Church if England is your church whether or not you are a member and practise your faith. The time is at hand for all faithful Anglicans to be jealous defenders of our inherited family trait of inclusiveness…so that we maintain our reputation for providing hospitality and holy space for the other with whom we might disagree, but who is first and foremost a family brother or sister.

We read in the prologue to St. John's Gospel tomorrow morning how the eternal Word came to his own, and his own received him not. It began at his birth where only the simple shepherds saw the truth of the humility revealed in the self giving God of the stable. The Prince of Peace refused to become a warrior king…and never once countenanced Christian tribal exclusivity and hegemony. God becomes one of us and includes our humanity within his own Godhead. We come tonight as one of the crowd one of his beloved children…O come let us adore him.

By all means give thanks for those gifts which set us apart and even above the normal standard - developed through hard work and discipline - but rejoice especially for those other areas which reduce you, and include you, as being just one of the crowd. Give thanks for the reminders of our shared humanity that never let us forget that, like all the crowd, we are here today and gone tomorrow…we all have a limited time to decide where, and in what, or who, we invest. Those of us with the gift of faith are so very fortunate in tasting the joys of God's presence as we eat the bread of angels and drink the very cup of salvation. One of the best sermons I heard during the year began with this quote: "The atheist's most embarrassing moment is when he feels profoundly thankful for something, but can't think of anybody to thank for it." Christians give thanks to God…we can name and direct our thanks to the origin. We do so tonight. Having seen and tasted the glory of the presence of God our palate is then spoilt…we are so affected that we cannot then settle for any lesser so-called exclusive offers and temptations, because they seem insipid and savourless in comparison.

God could not have given you more, anything more precious, and you are included and enfolded in his own life - God becoming man in order that we might become God (cf. Ss. Athanasius and Aquinas). Now the time arrives for celebration and to give away those carefully selected and wrapped…no doubt those exclusive Christmas gifts to family and friends. I wonder how much thought we have given though to that precious gift we are choosing for Jesus? Which part of myself am I hanging on to, and keeping for myself - afraid of letting go and investing in…and trusting…to him? With that thought of what we are offering of ourselves to others and to Jesus, I wish everyone here a very happy Christmas - one where we can be included as just one of the crowd.
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