A Sermon for Christmas Day
Christ Church, Oxford
11am, 25 December 2022
Available to view on livestream and catch up
A very happy Christmas to you and to your families.
There has been a famine of good news in 2022. It is true that COVID has receded in the UK. This time last year I was confined to bed. But the lockdown years have given way to new anxieties: a bloody and costly war in Europe and elsewhere; economic hardship; the challenges of migration; political turmoil in a year of three prime ministers; the death of our beloved Queen Elizabeth; inflation; and as the year closes, strikes in our public services. There have been wildfires, heatwaves, floods, storms, extremes of weather disrupting the lives of millions.
How is it possible even to say Happy Christmas in the face of such a year? How do we hear the angel’s message: ‘Do not be afraid, for I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people’?
Christmas has to be more than a few days of eating and drinking and terrible television. Christmas has to be even more than precious time with family and friends. Each one of us is invited today to kneel at the manger and hear the good news for all the people.
“…to you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord”.
It’s hard to see a single candle in a floodlit stadium. But in a Cathedral by night, that single flame burns brightly and gives light to the whole room. It’s hard to kneel at the manger and hear good news when we feel rich and prosperous and need nothing. But when I truly understand that I am wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked, that’s when I begin to see the gift of Jesus, Saviour, Messiah, Lord. The greater the darkness, the more clearly we need this light and this day.
Many of us here will know what it is like to hold a newborn baby. Ann and I have been blessed with two new grandchildren this year (bringing our total to eight). Nile was born in August and Benji just a few weeks ago. To hold them is to give thanks and to wonder at their beauty and potential and all the years to come.
But to kneel in the stable in Bethlehem this morning takes our wonder to a different level, caught by the carols we sing this day. We dare to believe that this child is both fully God and fully human. In this child the glory and wonder and wisdom of the maker of heaven and earth is distilled into a baby.
This child is our Saviour. See how salvation runs through each of our readings. Isaiah 62 proclaims “See your salvation comes”. Titus reminds us of the goodness and kindness of God our Saviour; that this God saves us not because of our good works but simply through God’s mercy.
According to the angels on the hillside this Saviour is for all the people: the whole world in every age. The salvation this child Jesus brings is first of all forgiveness and a new beginning. Forgiveness at the end of this year for all our sins and mistakes and they will be many. Forgiveness which holds such rich potential for healing in families and churches and communities and nations. Forgiveness which holds the secret of new life.
This Jesus will live a life which embodies God’s strong and determined kindness. This Jesus will give his life on the cross so that our misdeeds and shortcomings can be cancelled and forgiven. So that today, in this place we can leave our heavy burdens here and walk free. So that we can live new lives of grace and joy and peace. This is good news indeed.
The name Jesus means Saviour. It is the name given by the angel to Mary before his conception in the womb. But according to the angels he will be known by another name which is also a title, the Messiah, Christ, the Lord. This Jesus is the one anointed by God to bring order and peace and justice to our lives and to God’s world. This Jesus in his ministry will call us to follow him and share his work of building God’s kingdom on earth. This Jesus will one day come in glory, to set right all that is wrong and to make all things new.
No matter how bad the headlines, no matter how dark and cold the world, there is good news in the angel’s song:
Do not be afraid. I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people; to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour who is the Messiah the Lord.
So take a moment this Christmas time whether you are at home or in this Cathedral to reset your life and your faith. Seek God’s forgiveness afresh in Christ for all that has gone wrong. Lay down those heavy burdens you carry at the font or at the altar. Make a new confession that Jesus Christ is Lord in your own life and in the life of the world. Come as you are: poor, wretched, pitiable, blind and naked and seek his gold, his new clothes, his medicine for the soul.
In the words of our carol, let each of us invite Jesus Christ to be born in us today.
Hear the good news of great joy. O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel.
Christ Church Cathedral
Christmas Day, 2022