The Rev’d N.J.A. Humphrey
24 December 2015
Does it matter that you are here tonight? This is one of those deceptively simple questions. At first, it invites merely a “yes” or “no” answer. Either yes, it matters, or no, it really doesn’t—and if the latter is the case, the most I can hope for is that you will enjoy the show.
But the answer to this question, “Does it matter that you are here tonight?” is really predicated on answering, “To whom might it matter that you are here tonight?”
Well, does it matter to you? This might at first blush seem the most important question, because, after all, if it doesn’t matter to you personally, does it really matter at all? If what is “relevant” to me is the sole criterion of whether or not something matters, then we can end our ruminations here.
Allow me to suggest, however, that while “Does it matter to you?” is indeed a question of central importance for each one of us, it is not the only perspective we should consider. I will return to this question in due course, but first, I want to challenge us to widen our perspective if we haven’t already, and think of others to whom your presence here this evening matters, perhaps even more than it matters to you.
Unless you came on your own (in which case you’ll have to wait a bit until I get back to you), if you can get away with it, take a sidelong glance at the people you came with this evening. To which one (or more) of these people does it matter that you are here, and why?
Perhaps coming to St. John’s this evening was the price of admission for being included in your particular family or group of friends’ celebrations.
Perhaps there’s someone who has an agenda, who has brought you here in the secret (or not-so-secret) hope that being here will change something, perhaps even change you. If such is the case, it matters very much that you are here, though it’s up to you whether you will cooperate with any (hidden) Christmas Eve agenda that someone may have in store for you.
Perhaps it only matters to you because it matters to someone else. For instance, perhaps you’re here because you want to give your children or grandchildren a sense of tradition.
Perhaps it matters to you because this is your home, and you can’t imagine spending Christmas Eve anywhere else. Whether you are with anyone or not in the pew, you have chosen to be here, because you know that it matters to this community that you are here.
Perhaps it matters to you because you are seeking something, whether alone or in the company of others. Maybe you can name what you are seeking (peace, solace, comfort, joy, family, community), maybe you can’t. But you are following the Star of Bethlehem just as those shepherds and wise men did, not knowing where, exactly, it will lead you, but suspecting that it matters a great deal that you follow its light.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. There are so many reasons why it might matter to you or to someone next to you that you are here. But I can tell you in all honesty that it matters a great deal to me that you are here tonight. My heart is filled with gratitude, because without you, we would not be in business, after all. Selfishly speaking, my family and I wouldn’t be living in a house with a view of the Pell Bridge, and I wouldn’t have the privilege of serving the people of St. John’s, the Point, Newport, and beyond. A wise priest once told me that we clergy types depend entirely upon the generosity of other people, and that is a good thing, because if we resist the temptation to resent that dependence and instead find in it a source for gratitude, it grounds us in our day to day lives. Just as we are all called to be thankful for the gift of Jesus Christ at Christmas, I am grateful to you, and it matters more than I can say that you are here tonight. (I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but this church has experienced something of a renaissance over the past three Christmases, and you are a part of it this evening.) So your presence here matters to me, as it does every time you come through these doors, whether once a year, or once a month, or once a week, or yes, even once a day, since St. John’s is open every single day of the year.
Aside from my admittedly self-interested gratitude, it also matters a great deal to me that you are here tonight because I sincerely believe it matters to God. In fact, the whole mystery of the Incarnation, the formal name for the doctrine that in Jesus Christ “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” can be boiled down to two words: “Matter matters.”
Matter, that is, the stuff of creation, and particularly the stuff we are made of, flesh and blood, matters to God. We matter so much that God was willing to be made matter in the person of Jesus, so that whether Cyrenius or Assad is in charge of Syria, we know that each and every one of us matters, at all times and everywhere.
And because we matter to God, we matter to each other. It matters that we gather like this on this most holy of nights because it offers us the opportunity, once again, to connect with each other and with God on a deep level, perhaps on a deeper level than any of us can possibly imagine.
It is the dream of every preacher to deliver that sermon that will touch the heart and speak to the mind and leave the hearer hungry to come back for more. At Christmas in particular there’s a lot of pressure put on us preachers, through our seminary formation, through our interaction with peers and superiors, and that I quite honestly put on myself, to deliver just that kind of Christmas Eve sermon. But my eloquence, such as it is, is nothing in comparison to our hymns and anthems, [the smile on our bambino bearer’s face], the simple pastoral majesty of our ancient Creche. The sights and sounds and smells of Christmas speak more eloquently than I of how much matter matters to God, and to us, and to each other.
So does it matter that you are here this evening? Indeed it does. Because if you weren’t here, you would have one less opportunity to reflect on why it matters that Jesus matters, and to ask yourself whether it matters enough to you to offer your own matter, your own flesh and blood, up to him in return. As you look around at your family and friends, or, if alone, simply at the strange wonder of it all, I hope you get the sense of how much this all matters, because that’s the only thing that matters to me this Christmas.