A recent sermon By Rev Neil Gardner. (More sermons can be found below.)
Christmas Eve 2019.
St Luke 2:10 I am bringing you good news of great joy.
I have lost track of the number of carol services I have led or attended in the last few weeks and I have certainly lost count of the number of carols I have sung or heard sung. Easily the most memorable singing came through neither a carol nor a hymn, but through a pop song sung by the congregation at the annual Christmas service for Crisis, the charity for the homeless, held here in Canongate Kirk. Their event is always attended by a mixture of staff, supporters and customers, clients as they call them, those who have been homeless and have benefitted over the years from the charity’s support. And this year we all sang together Bridge over Troubled Water, which was first released by Simon and Garfunkel in January 1970, almost exactly 50 years ago. It’s a song I’ve known all my life.
It was my late father’s favourite pop song, though perhaps there wasn’t a great deal of competition for that particular accolade. He played the piano and he appreciated the piano accompaniment to Bridge over Troubled Water. He probably didn’t pay much attention to the words. And I don’t suppose I did either. Until now. Or to be precise until a couple of weeks ago, when I found myself singing them here at the Crisis service alongside those who had been homeless, and suddenly heard them like never before as we sang together
When you’re down and out,
When you’re on the street,
when evening falls so hard,
I will comfort you.
I’ll take your part when darkness comes
And pain is all around.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down;
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
We didn’t sing it particularly well, not everybody was in tune or in time, but it was deeply moving and at the end there was a natural moment of quiet as we each reflected on what the words meant in such a context and not least to those for whom they had such profound and personal resonance. Those who had been down and out. On the street. When darkness comes and pain is all around. Suddenly the words came to life, and whenever I hear them in future I’ll remember that time we sang them here, and the company we were in, and Bridge over Troubled Water will never sound quite the same again.
Amongst his lyrics about darkness and pain Paul Simon also writes about comfort, I will comfort you, and so does Isaiah, for the Lord has comforted his people, he writes so many centuries before. Here too darkness and pain do not have the last word, but beauty and hope abound. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation. If I will comfort you is the pop song’s promise, then the Lord has comforted his people is the prophet’s promise fulfilled. And a promise that would be fulfilled once and for all in the birth of Jesus announced by the angel to the shepherds, I am bringing you good news of great joy.
How many times have you heard those words before? How many times have you heard them but never really listened? I am bringing you good news of great joy. Good news of great joy in the birth of a child who would become a man, a man who one day would lay down his life for his friends. Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down. I will comfort you. May you hear these words like never before this Christmas Eve, I am bringing YOU good news of great joy, and as Christmas Day dawns may they never sound quite the same again.
Diakonia Sunday 2019