Long ago a prophet looked at the world with honest eyes. He saw nations in turmoil, an economy in crisis, the clash of empires. He saw corruption in politics and religion and media and law. Truth was eroded. The foundations were crumbling. Disaster was looming.
Jeremiah wept for his nation and in God’s name he sang this song:
“Stand at the crossroads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies and walk in it and find rest for your souls”.
At the end of 2016, our world is at the crossroads once again. Our climate is changing. 65 million people are on the move worldwide. Technology is about to reshape our working lives. Inequality is growing and with it discontent. The economy is stalled. Our population is ageing. The political landscape shifts under our feet. People are facing greater crises with fewer resources. Oxford dictionaries declared the word of 2016 to be “post truth”. Even in the midst of crises, we play games with reality.
This Cathedral stands at that crossroads in time and in place. Oxford is a crossroads for the world: a place for the shaping of people and ideas. Here at the meeting of road and river, the meeting of ancient wisdom and future policy stands this place of prayer and learning, this house of Christ. In every place across this Diocese and this nation, there are houses of prayer, communities of faith, at thousands upon thousands of crossroads, there for all who will come.
What wisdom do we offer this Christmas Day to a world in turmoil? What song do we sing in this generation? Only one.
The Church makes such remarkable claims about the child who is born in the stable on Christmas Day.
He is more than the happy ending of the nativity story and centre of the crib scene, the child born in danger and poverty and pain. He is more than the one who was promised and whose birth was foretold by the prophets over hundreds of years. He is more than the one whose coming is celebrated by the poor and the rich, by near and far, by earth and heaven.
He is more than the child who would grow to live the most perfect, loving and righteous life that has ever been lived. He is more than the most influential person ever to walk the earth, his goodness and teaching and truth recognised in every faith, by every philosopher. He is more even than the one who would lay down his life for his friends, more than the one who would conquer death itself.
Who do we dare to believe this is, this child born of Mary, wrapped and swaddled and lying in a manger?
This child is God Almighty taking flesh, becoming human, come to be with us, come to save us.
Listen again to the first sentence of our Epistle and Gospel. Hear what the Church claims for this birth in this moment.
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son….He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being and he sustains all things by his powerful word”.
There is no greater claim that can be made about Jesus Christ. This is God incarnate, taking flesh, coming to be with us, reaching out to save us, dwelling in our world and the place of rest for our souls.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God……And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth”.
This is our faith. God has come to meet us and abide with us and invite us to abide in him. God has come with purpose, to save us. A moment’s reflection will tell you why. We cannot save ourselves.
God does not simply stand far off and shout instructions or rebuke or encouragement. God does more than write a letter, or send a message through a friend for that would not be enough to meet our need.
God is born to us. Infinity is confined and eternity compressed. The power and wisdom which forged the stars is distilled into a single most wonderful birth and life and death. The love which shaped creation is concentrated in a new born child. The vitality which filled the oceans and the forests is held within a single life.
This Jesus is God’s Son, the Word made flesh, who comes in love to save us. This is Jesus, God’s Son, who comes in love to make all things new. This is Jesus who would speak to you, on this day and in this place, words of love and forgiveness and new birth.
“But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God”.
Stand here at the crossroads and look and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies and find rest for your souls.
We have come to live in a post truth world. Every map is out of date and unreliable. The only way to navigate from here is with a compass. That compass finds its true north in this place, on Christmas Day through faith in Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth.
Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
Christmas Day, 2016.
Jeremiah 6.16; Hebrews 1.1-4; John 1.1-14