Chapel of the Resurrection, Pusey House, Oxford
Readings: Isaiah 8.16-9.7, James 2.14-end
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
In the Name of the Father + and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.
How would you like it if your identity was stolen by a fat, bearded man in a red jumpsuit? Well, that is what happened to St Nicholas. This bishop of Myra had his identity stolen by Father Christmas, in what must probably be one of the world’s most famous identity thefts…
Nicholas is the patron saints of such a diverse group of people as children, coopers, sailors, broadcasters and repentant thieves. (He also happens to be co-patron of the Lutheran cathedral in my home town Stockholm…) It is also said that he got so angry at the heretic Arius during the Council of Nicaea that he went up and hit him in the face. Luckily, that’s not how most Church of England meetings end up at this present day…
It is interesting that the readings we had for the Evensong tonight should be the same as the ones for the Christmas Midnight Mass, and that the saint commemorated today is one so significantly associated with Christmas, to the extent of him showing up in many houses around the country on Christmas Night.
While hitting an opponent in a meeting square in the face might not be what James was talking about when he talked about salvation through work in the New Testament reading today, in his other acts Nicholas was a primary example of translating faith into action – one of his more famous acts is supposed to be the reviving of three girls murdered by a butcher to be sold as ham, as well as the paying of the dowry for the three daughters of the poor man, which is supposed to be the first instance of “Santa Claus” throwing things down the chimney close to Christmas.
This much for the former bishop of Myra. As this is the final Wednesday Evensong homily preached in the Chapel of the Resurrection for 2017, I shall try and focus more on the event which Isaiah prophesied – the birth of the Prince of Peace.
Already here, in one of the prophets from the Old Testament, we see an idea of all that Christ would be. To quote Iranaeus:
“He was a man without comeliness, and liable to suffering; that He sat upon the foal of an ass; that He received for drink, vinegar and gall; that He was despised among the people, and humbled Himself even to death; and that He is the holy Lord, the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Beautiful in appearance, and the Mighty God, coming on the clouds as the Judge of all men;—all these things did the Scriptures prophesy of Him.”
In a little while, we will be given the world’s greatest gift from God – as we heard in the psalmody a little earlier:
“The Lord looked down from heaven, and beheld all the children of men: from the habitation of his dwelling he considereth all them that dwell on the earth. He fashioneth all the hearts of them and understandeth all their works”
In his prophesy, Isaiah talks about a wonderful counseller. Wonderful in this context does indeed also mean good, and nice, and all other such superlatives, but what we also need to remember is that, in this context, it actually also means “beyond the normal capacity to perform”.
The prophet also refers to Christ as Mighty God, someone using this might to do all the things that his mighty counsels talk about and actually translate them into action – to absorb all the evil thrown at him, and to defeat his enemy – indeed something far beyond the normal capacity to perform!
He will also come as the Prince of Peace, someone who will always do what is best for me, to be there for us, to be our only mediator and advocate with his Father, and who died on the Cross to redeem our sins.
For those who don’t know me very well, I am rather active on Twitter, a form of social media which lets you post short snippets of your take on the world, and most of my clergy friends on Twitter will soon start tweeting things along the line of “let’s keep Christ in Christmas this year”, and that is actually an exhortation (to borrow a word from our dear BCP) I would like to make my own tonight.
Christmas should not only be about the things that the slightly morphed version of a 3rd century bishop throws down your chimney, but about something more profound.
Friends – let this Christmas be about the world’s final and greatest King, the King to end all kings, whose kingdom and peace will never stop expanding. Let it be about the Rescuer that we all need. Let it be about the Leader that we all long for. Let it be about the answer to the heart’s great questions. Let it be about Jesus!
 Ps 33. 13-14 Coverdale Version