Isaiah 63: 7-9, Psalm 148, Hebrews 2: 10-18, Matthew, 2:13-23

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Thank you for being here this morning – how unexpected to see you all! But what a delight as well and welcome to those who’ve not been here before. It really is a delight to see you on this day – the church hasn’t named this feast day yet, I would call it Hangover Sunday, if I had my way. I just want to recognise how important it is that we are here, and I got that from the sermon that was preached on Christmas morning, where John very helpfully spoke of the signs. We must stop reading this stuff as if someone was running a camera back in the old days, recording events. This stuff is written in a mystical way to enlighten us so we can actually not just see, but have some idea of what it is we are looking at.

Being here today is a sign. Many people would have woken up this morning and they would have thanked God – that’s the first thing they would have said: ‘Thank God that’s all over for another year.’ That’s how they would have woken up. It’s the classic Boxing Day frame of mind. Then they’d have scratched their navels, wandered down to the lounge-room and turned on the telly and watched the start of the Sydney to Hobart as if it was some earth shattering event. And those that think that yachting is just for the rich and snotty, they will actually wait, so they’ll probably go out to have coffee and a couple of croissants because they’re sick to death of mince pies and Christmas cake and then come back to watch the Poms retain the Ashes…… Some of us know what’s going to happen!

It’s important though – we must start reading the signs, the signs around us and the signs within us. And this is the season where we’re given such a richness of signs, all pointing toward our new creation: the opportunity for us to realise that deepest desire within, to find a fullness of life that is held in and forever holds Love, and we’ve got a delightful set of signs to work with.

Reread the gospel this afternoon and think about refugees, because the story today is about that beautiful family that everyone has been singing carols about: Joseph, such a good man, supported Mary even though she was… someone else had done, well you know: great man, great man. He is a sign to all men. Mary faithfully saying ‘yes’; the infant Jesus so full of promise - suddenly made refugees. They have to flee their country, just as today others flee as refugees. Mary and Joseph fled to place of safety and security, a place where they could nurture and nourish, in order to continue their journey. It’s amazing, I think, that what we do in this country is ship people off to something called Christmas Island. Isn’t that bizarre? If that isn’t a distortion of the Word of God I don’t know what is.

One reading where we can in fact look for signs of these stories that operate in the everyday: this morning early, I went to Beryl and Stuart’s house to anoint Stuart. This morning he leaves the house they’ve been in for twenty-something years to go into a hospice where he will face his last few days before he continues his journey and dies.

For those who don’t know Beryl and Stuart, they are classic faithful Anglicans. They have been here and supported the ministry of this community certainly as long as I’ve been here, and they are an absolute matching pair – you can’t think of them as individuals. Where it says two shall become one flesh, they can start and finish each other’s sentences and they do so constantly. Together they are, together they have been, and today they face the trauma, not only of Stuart’s impending death, but the trauma now that that house will no longer be their home. It’s interesting – Stuart’s in a lot of pain, and he doesn’t sleep much: last night he slept the whole night. It’s as if ‘this is my last night in my bed’, and he had a good night’s sleep. It’s a poignant time for them and yet what is the season that we are in if it is not the season of journeying? Everyone is on the move. The wise men are coming to the scene of the Nativity, they haven’t arrived yet, and they represent probably that part of us that hasn’t arrived yet at the scene of the Nativity. There is movement. Today we read another story of movement – Mary and Joseph. The new birth cannot stay, but must move on.

So I anointed Beryl and Stuart for the next part of their journey, and acknowledged……. Funny I went through the prayer book - it’s quite good to read things backwards, it’s a very Middle Eastern thing, puts you in touch with a different energy. Going back I was looking for a prayer I could share with them and I came across a page where there was one prayer. Now because I’d come backwards I didn’t know what service it belonged to,) because if you go forward it tells you this is Baptism this is Eucharist, this is wedding…) but if you come backwards you get to read the prayers before you know where they belong. There was a delightful prayer for a couple who had just got married and it was the most appropriate prayer for the two of them. And of course it wasn’t anointing Stuart at all, it was anointing Beryl and Stuart; they both begin a new journey. Nothing to do with distance, because the journey they take now is far more a journey of themselves. And it was delightful to anoint them with a prayer from the marriage service to acknowledge that they are held as one in Love wherever they are. It’s an amazing bond, because it’s not just a holding between Fremantle and Murdoch Nursing home, it actually is a holding that is forever: Love never ends. So the two of them, like all of us, are always held in one place when we are held in Love.

Yesterday after the service, I was explaining to someone that racing drivers love to drive cars, priests love to celebrate the Eucharist. And on Christmas Day, I didn’t have the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist, or so I thought, because John and I had worked out that I had Midnight Mass and John had Christmas Day. All fine. Then I got a call from Jan, Beryl and Stuart ‘s daughter, asking if I could do a Eucharist for them at the house because they wouldn’t be able to get Stuart to church, so I did get to ‘drive my car’ on Christmas Day after all!

I went down there, fresh with the echo of the ‘signs of the season’, the signs of these sacred texts. I didn’t have far to walk, so I actually took the chalice from the morning’s Eucharist here, I took the bread we hadn’t used; so down I went. Now in the house I have two other wonderful signs of Christmas – frankincense, a block of it. Well, it’s no longer a block. I picked it up in India and its journey was a delightful sign to me, because if you carry a solid block of frankincense through the airport scanners, they wonder what on earth you’ve got in your suitcase. I checked in at the airport in Bangalore and through the scanners it went and I just assumed that everything was fine, but then they took me aside and told me to open my suitcase and said, ‘what’s in that block?’ I said, ‘Frankincense.’ Their English didn’t quite go that far, so I was trying to explain about incense in temples; this interested quite a few of them - they were all around! They said there’s metal in there and they invited me around the other side of the counter to have a look at the X-ray machine from the other side. Put my suitcase through again and there’s this block of frankincense with this dark cloud in the middle of it, absolutely black. They were saying ‘see, there's metal’, I was saying no, no…… So I thought the only way to resolve this is to look inside, so I took it out, and it was a solid resin block, almost like a piece of coal, and I started banging it on the counter. So there’s now bit’s of frankincense flying; they think I’m smashing something I really wanted, I mean it’s delightful, and I know it doesn’t matter because I’m going to crush it up anyway. Finally we got enough pieces to show there was no metal, they agreed with me. But even when they put the bag of it through again you could see this blackness within. It’s really odd. Long story that was to say I’ve got some frankincense in the house!

And the other thing I’ve got in the house is a gold nugget – I’m not going to tell you where it is, and it’s actually not mine, it’s a gift to St Paul’s that I’ve been hanging onto for a while, and every now and again the topic comes up as to what shall we do with it. There’s a part of me that wants to auction it and make a bucket-load of money and do something with the money, and there ‘s another part of me that wants to place it somewhere to acknowledge the value and the worth of what’s here, just to have it in the ground, symbolically, to know that we have such an abundance already. We don’t need to convert things into cash, what we actually need to do is to bring them into the beauty that we have.

Two of the three classic Christmas gifts they are; the one I don’t have is myrrh. So I trot down to have this little service with the Hogan family, and mentioned that being ale to come into their family is actually a gift, and what I bring into their family is the gift of this community, the bread and the wine, the fact that we are the Body of Christ. That family needs to know and be in touch with that Body at this time. And I said, I was thinking of bringing some other gifts, some frankincense and some gold, because they are signs as well, and I said the myrrh is such an important sign of Christmas. You see the myrrh is the anointing, the spice, the perfume that is placed on the dead, and when we get to Easter we will discover that part of the story.

Now the interesting thing about Christmas and all of the signs and all it represents, that story could not have been written, and was not written, before Easter. The Christmas story is an after-Easter story. The dying and rising which is so central to our faith, to our life and to our being - that is so stunningly important that they wrote the Christmas story in order to underline and illustrate the importance of the dying and rising of Easter, and so we already bring in a sign of the dying that the birth represents. Certainly when you have a family gathered for Christmas celebrating birth, and one member of that family is so close to death, that that really is the only journey that they now seek to move forward with, this all comes together and makes sense - no wrongness in it at all, but rather something that constantly and forever points us towards life.

So do take time, a little more time. By being here you are a sign that acknowledges that, no, Christmas hasn’t finished. ‘Thank God it’s all over’ is a complete misreading of the whole. We’re here and we’re gathered here because we know - we’ve seen the signs - it is Christmas, it is, we are in that season of Christmas. We actually want to hold what it represents, perhaps so that we can read it a little more closely and see ourselves and our unfolding in those stories. So thank you for being here. And if he doesn’t go on for too long we can still get home in time for the cricket as well.

The Lord be with you
Peter Humphris