Christmas Eve is a special day. After vespers or evening prayer, advent comes to an end, and Christmastide begins. We leave behind that period of spiritual reflection and preparation and enter the exuberant time of wonder and joy. Christ is born. Alleluia!

Throughout the 12 days of Christmas, we recall the nativity story. The greatest love story ever told. God fulfilled all his promises to mankind by bringing in the New Covenant. He fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies and laws by presenting us with the New. And he loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son. Knowing full well what we would do with him. What would we do to him. God humbled himself and became man incarnate to die on the cross for our sins. Like any good father would, knowing his children had committed grave sins, he chose to pay the penalty for us. Not only to rid us of our sins but so that we may have eternal life in him.

Members of my congregation who are here tonight will be familiar with this adage; I say it a lot, but it can not be said too often: God is love. And when we say God is love, we mean that God is a loving, everlasting relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. By conquering death, God invites us into that ever-loving relationship. That is the reason we were created, and although we have free will and the choice to take the Almighty up on his offer or not – that is our ultimate purpose. To join God in his heavenly kingdom.

It is a pleasure to worship with you at The Shrine of Our Lady of Willesden this Christmas. It is incredibly fitting that Christ Church joins St Mary’s this evening, as this is the time that we celebrate Saint Mary giving birth to Christ.

Outside of this environment, it often feels like people have forgotten the meaning of Christmas. The obsession with Father Christmas or Santa and present-giving is often looked down upon by Christians. But I think it’s important that we remind ourselves that this is low-hanging fruit. So long as people are celebrating Christmas, they are celebrating the birth of Christ. And even if they are only doing so in a secular manner, they are only moments away from opening their hearts to him.

After all, the name Father Christmas, as with anything Christmasy, is invoking the name of Our Lord and Saviour. Christ-mass. We should encourage its use as much as possible, especially in the face of increased demands to rebrand this special time as Happy Holidays, or the worst one I’ve heard so far, Happy Winter Closure Period.

As for the common nickname, Santa Clause, this is just another name for Saint Nicholas, an important saint we venerate during the Advent period. A holy man who did spend his vast fortunes giving gifts to needy children. And gift-giving is an inherently Christian thing to do. The value of charity is embedded in the Scriptures.

The moment Jesus is born, in the nativity story, we hear of the Magi bringing gifts of gold frankincense and Mir. And the nativity story itself is about a great gift; God giving us the gift of his only begotten son. And, of course, it doesn’t stop there. He gives us the gift of eternal life in him, and prior to that, he gives us his Grace through the Sacraments.

So the next time we hear our non-Christian friends talking about the lovely presents they gave or received at Christmas, let’s use that as an opportunity to remind them of the greatest gift they’ll ever receive. The love of Our Lord.

Happy Christmas!

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