Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sermon for the first Eucharist of Christmas 2017: the joy of the angels

May my words be in the Name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tonight is the night that we, along with the angels, rejoice in the birth of the Christ-child. Indeed, the scene that St Luke describes of the angels breaking forth from heaven to join with the one sent to the shepherds and sing praises to God at the great event is surely one of the most beautiful in Scripture – that of the night sky filled with a multitude of the heavenly host.

Their presence reminds us that the events of this night extend beyond the human realm and that they are part of great cosmic battle against the forces of evil. A battle, we must remember, in which the angels have played a part from the very beginning. Before the beginning of time, God first created the angels, being who were, like him, pure spirit. But war broke out in heaven when God revealed to them his plan to create man – matter and spirit combined. Some found this idea offensive and led by Satan they rose up in rebellion against their creator.

They could not win, of course; and the heavenly host, led by the Archangel Michael, defeated them and they were driven from heaven and cast down into hell where they remain now as demons. But their great loss has given them an implacable hatred not only against God but against what they view as the cause of their fall – man.

And so in the garden where our first parents dwelt Satan approached Eve, our first mother, in the form of a serpent and tempted her to commit the same evil that he himself was guilty of – disobedience against the creator. And alas for all mankind she gave in to that temptation; and having yielded brought that same temptation to her husband as well. And so sin entered into the human realm and the damage it has caused continues down to that very day.

We can well imagine the sorrow that day caused among the angels in heaven. No doubt the metaphorical hearts of these wholly good and pure spirits were broken to see this terrible evil being brought into the world that God had not only created but called good; and particularly that the evil of what we now call original sin had been visited upon mankind, the beings that God, when he created them, had declared very good.

And their sorrows have surely been added to again and again down through the millennia. God, as we know, appoints a guardian angel to each of us at our birth; our very own spiritual being to watch over us – every man, woman, boy, and girl – all the days of our lives. How it must wound such utterly pure spirits, devoted as they are to doing the will of God, at having to witness all the sin and evil there is in the world; to see, despite their best efforts to protect and guide, to see the human soul they have been set by the Almighty to watch over fall again and again into disobedience against the one who created them, who created us.

And, of course, being good and pure they are full of love. Love first and foremost for God; but also full of love for all that he has made, the world and all it contains, most especially for all of us. And naturally, just as we are greatly troubled when those whom we love take great risks – risks whose consequences may well lead to death and destruction – so too are the angels troubled when they see the terrible risks undertaken by men and women – risks that may one day end with them being denied joining with them in the joys of heaven, the place that men and women were created to be, just like the angels.

But even as the sorrow was great, their joy must have been greater the night the Christ-child was born. They would, of course, have rejoiced to see the will of the Father being carried out. For that is simply the nature of those who are love God and obedient to his will are. But they would have rejoiced also because of the great love they have for us. Our disobedience had up until that point closed the gate of heaven to humanity. Because God is infinitely good that makes every sin, every action that is not in accordance with his will, infinitely offensive to him. And there was no way we could make amends for our wrong doing, no way to redeem ourselves for all we had done wrong; no way of achieving salvation, no way of gaining entrance to heaven.

No way until Christ came into the world to pay the price for our sins himself. And his saving work began with his incarnation, when the Holy Spirit over-shadowed the Blessed Virgin Mary and the one who was both God and man was conceived within her; and that saving work was continued with his birth, in the humblest of circumstances … in a stable, with no witness but her husband Joseph, and with no crib but the very manager that the ox and the ass would feed from, with the hay they would feed upon for his bedding.

How could they not burst forth out of heaven to sing their joy on such an occasion? Angels are the messengers of God; and God's word made flesh had come into the world to offer salvation to all those living and who would ever live! A joyful night for the angels; and a cause of joy to man ever since … which is why we join with them to sing God's praises this night … and will, I pray, cause you to give thanks to God not just now but always. Amen.

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