Christmas Eve, Midnight 2015 – hope, St Mary’sFordingbridge

I wonder what brought you here tonight. What brings us to places like this week by week or just now and again? Is it perhaps because we feel safe? Of course it may be that it’s just on the way home from the pub and if that’s the case you are just as welcome. Or just maybe it is because we want some hope in a broken world?

You would have needed to have spent the year on the planet Zog to have not noticed some of the dreadful things that have happened in the last 12 months. I’m sure if I asked you all we could think of a huge list which would include two dreadful atrocities in Paris and countless mass shootings in America not to mention the dreadful plight of those fleeing violence in Syria and other war torn parts of the world. And on top of all that Donald Trump.

So is there any hope? Is there any point in being here tonight because if tonight is about anything surely it is about hope. But are we beyond that, are we “doomed” as Private Fraser was fond of saying in Dad’s Army.

But let’s just go back in time. A man agrees to marry a woman who he knows is pregnant to stop her being disgraced or worse. They have to travel a distance to register for the census of a foreign invading power and the only transport they have is a donkey. When they finally arrive at the place of registration the whole place is full up, there’s nowhere to stay and the baby is coming. When someone does finally take pity on them they end up in a barn – not one of those lovely little manger scenes we all have but in a dirty smelly stinking unsanitary barn surrounded by animals. Doesn’t look too hopeful does it – not if you are destined to be the saviour of the world. But against all the odds the baby survives its birth, survives a mass murder attempt by a jealous and insecure king, and the journey home. Hope is born.

Of course t’s not all bad is it – the climate change deal was signed a few days ago between almost 200 countries, who knows if it will succeed but surely there is at least hope that we now have a whole world prepared to do something. We see examples to us of how we can all make a difference – the Pope in a Fiat 500 not a 7 litre gas gussler – who knows we might see the Queen going down the Mall in a Nissan Leaf electric car next – we can hope!

Then there are the small but life-changing events. I can think of two small pitch invasions, one at the Rugby World Cup where a lad ran on in his excitement and ended up with an All Black winner’s medal. Another small boy aged 4 runs on to a rugby league game in Australia. One of the players gives him the ball and sets him off running towards the posts, he has almost the whole field to run and the players from the opposing team keep trying to tackle him and unbelievably they mistime every tackle so they land behind him or just in front. He gets just past the 22 line and runs out of puff so one of the players picks him up and carries him beneath the posts where he scores to an almighty cheer.

I can tell you of a story I heard about 10 days ago of a visitor to a foodbank in Lancashire. The lady had been ill and lost her job. She didn’t realise she could get benefits and she starved. She became depressed and she thought her life was over. She received a letter to say she was being evicted. She wrote a note to her family and made a sign to put on the front door asking someone to look after her dogs and she left home intending to end her life. Well she met someone who took her to the foodbank and at that foodbank they have a debt adviser. That person just sat and listened and then they picked up the phone and got hold of the Citizens’ Advice Bureaux specialist for housing issues. They made an emergency plea to the court to delay the eviction, went to a hearing the next day, got the delay and then they set about applying for benefits and sorting out her debts – all started within 2 days. She kept her house and she didn’t die, why because she now has hope. I could tell you many stories like that one.

Through his actions that baby we celebrate tonight brought hope to many, he healed the sick, he mended the broken hearted and he set people free from all the bad stuff they were involved in. He gave them hope.

None of us are Jesus, none of us I suspect have the power of healing nor can we make everything right but if we work together, if we believe that together we can make a difference, then we can make a difference. I know I can’t do any of that on my own and I get my strength from knowing that there is a God that watches over us and who will help us if only we can trust and hope. I suspect not everyone shares that faith here this evening but even if you don’t share that faith, have hope that together we can achieve something. I mentioned foodbanks because I work for the charity that runs over 400 of them across the UK. They were all started by churches, churches that many people thought were completely irrelevant because all they did was talk, or so it seemed to people on the outside. Those churches galvanised communities church going and not, Christian and Muslim and Sikh and Hindu and atheist to all work together and in the last three years over 3 million people have been saved from starving or worse as I talked about a few moments ago, because each of those communities suddenly had hope and hope sprang into action and generosity.

New birth gives us hope and the birth we celebrate tonight is the best example of hope, and triumph over adversity that I can think of. He became known as the light of the world. You should all have a tea light. I’d like you to take that tea light home and at some point tomorrow put it on a windowsill as a light to the world and a symbol of hope.
Pause
Amen

Mark Ward

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