Sermon by Fr Neil Traynor, at St John the Baptist Holland Road, Sunday 10 December 2017, Advent 2

Sermon by Fr Neil Traynor, at St John the Baptist Holland Road, Sunday 10 December 2017, Advent 2

O Magnum Mysterium

O Lord, raise up (we pray thee) thy power and come among us, and with great might succour us; that whereas through our sins and wickedness , we are sore let and hindered in running the race that is set before us, thy bountiful grace and mercy may speedily help and deliver us; through the satisfaction of thy Son our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost be honour and glory, world without end.  Amen (The collect for the 2nd (CW) or 4th (BCP) Sunday of Advent)
Our eyes have in them a mixture of rods and cones, which determine in part what we see.  Cattle (some think) can see blue, green and yellow; sheep seem only to see in monochrome.  Bees see yellow, blue and infrared.  Each of us - and probably everything in creation -  sees the world slightly differently.  How often have you seen one colour, only for someone else to be certain it is another? 
There was a craze a few years ago for stereograms.  Seemingly abstract patterns, out of which it was possible to see a 3d picture, if you were lucky enough, or were able to see in the ‘right way’.  Some saw them immediately; others after a struggle; many gave up in disgust.
What we see isn’t necessarily what is there; perhaps we only see now in part as through a glass darkly.
The music we’ve just heard ‘O magnum mysterium’ fits in well with this theme.  It’s taken from the responsory at Matins on Christmas morning, before the dawn breaks, and the new day is born.  The text comes not from the Gospel of Matthew, but instead from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Golden Legend; both ancient texts, but neither of which made the canonical list of books of the New Testament.

Its theme is the group gathered around the crib.  Not, as one might think, Mary and Joseph, but the animals instead.  The great mystery, this magnum mysterium. is one which is first revealed to and first recognised by the non-humans at the scene.  The oxen, sheep and donkey.  These are the ones to whom the Christ-child is first made manifest.
For in their innocence they saw something that others did not.  The Christmas story, as it gradually unfolds, is one of the word made flesh being recognised first by the animals; then by the shepherds, those who toil and keep watch; then by the strangers, the magi, wise men, kings or what you will; and then, finally, at Candlemas, this child is recognised by the old man Simeon as ‘the light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel’.
It’s a little like a pebble, dropped into a still pond, creating circle after circle of ripples, that reach out to infinity.
As we approach Christmas, we need to rejoice, for the Lord is at hand.  Sometimes we need to experience a mystery and not to understand.  Sometimes we need to see to believe.  Sometimes we need to just be.  For we are hindered in running the race that is set before us.  Hindered by ourselves, our preconceptions and those things we think we see.
But, it is God’s bountiful grace and mercy which will speedily help and deliver us, so that, at the last, we may glimpse just a portion of that magnum mysterium; that word made flesh, full of truth and grace as legend has those animals doing.

O magnum mysterium,                         O great mystery,
et admirabile sacramentum,                  
and wonderful sacrament
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
    that animals should see the                                                         new-born Lord,
iacentem in praesepio!
                         lying in a manger!

Holland Park Benefice