Christmas Eve Sermon at Saint Matthias’ Church
“The Word became flesh and lived among us” John 1:14
Christmas is a special time for children.
Each Christmas, I wonder what became of two little children I once met in a place very far away. Are they alive? Where are they celebrating?
On Sunday, 13th January 1991, I met a little boy and girl on the Philippine island of Negros. Staying overnight with sugar workers, we had travelled by jeep to visit internal refugees, people displaced by the conflict between the government and a Communist guerrilla movement.
The journey seemed to take hours and hours on roads that got worse and worse. We stopped in a village to ask for the army’s permission to proceed, it took half an hour of negotiation. Then we set off across country. We could probably have walked faster than the jeep could go, but it was so hot. Initially, there was a track, but it disappeared, and we drove across open countryside. It was hard to believe anyone could be living so far from anywhere.
Finally, we reached the refugees, a few pathetic houses in a cluster of trees. The houses were built from bamboo canes and palm leaves. There were no facilities; water came from a stream; the nearest electricity was miles away; there was no provision for medical care or education.
We had brought our lunch with us and we sat on the floor of one of the frail houses to eat. There were two Filipino children who lived in this one-roomed house with their parents, a boy of about five years old and a girl of about three.
I could not begin to imagine what life was like in such a place, yet some people have an incredible capacity to cope. From somewhere, the children’s father had got a large sheet of rough paper, on it he had written the letters of the alphabet and the numbers from 1 to 10. The sheet of paper had been fixed to the wall and the little boy picked up a piece of wood and recited the alphabet as he pointed to each of the letters. He was delighted when we clapped him for his efforts. The cheerfulness of those children was a humbling experience.
Our visit to the village was short. We had been instructed by the military to leave by 3.30. Before we left, we felt that we had to leave something with the family, we searched through our bags for whatever might be useful. I handed over a little first aid kit that I had bought in Belfast for £5.50, it contained a couple of bandages, dressings and tubes of ointment. It was received with delight and hung on the wall. It seemed painfully inadequate; they had nothing and we had so little to offer.
I look around at all the children at Christmastime and I wonder what became of those two little children. Did they grow up into happy and cheerful adults? They were people with no address, people with no official status. Being realistic, it is possible neither of them survived their childhood years.
There are hundreds of millions more children like them around the world this Christmas Eve, children for whom it will be another day of struggling to live. If Christmas means anything, it must mean something for all of those children.
I used to think that the words of the Christmas carols were soft and sentimental, but as the years have passed, I’ve realized more and more that Christmas is a hard and serious matter. It’s hard and serious for all the children like that little boy and girl because it is about God coming down to earth to be with people like them. God is very real to those people because their faith is all they have in the world.
This Christmas will be real to countless millions who will have no presents, no parties, no extra food, because it is about God being with them. Our down to earth God will be with those down to earth people.
Should I ever get to heaven, I would like to meet the people that boy and girl became, I would like to ask them what they made of the sad strangers who once visited them on a Sunday afternoon.
Christmas is serious for those people, is it something serious for us?
Excessive amounts of food, presents we didn’t need, lots and lots of money spent, and, at the end of it, what? Without faith in the God who took on human flesh, what is our Christmas about?
Lots of people will spend the coming week in celebration and will go back to work in the New Year with a sense of emptiness. What were the celebrations all about?
If I had a wish and was honest, it would be that we would enjoy a real Christmas, that we would know that God was with us, and that we would live our lives in that faith.
For the sake of all the people in the world like that little boy and girl, for our own sake, let’s make it a real Christmas.