Christmas Day sermon

Bishop Steven gave the following address at Christ Church Cathedral on Christmas Day:

What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it (John 1.4-5).

Happy Christmas. We bear witness this morning to the truth that Christmas has not been cancelled – to the profound truth that God became a human person for our sake out of love for the world. This great good news is proclaimed today, in many different ways, in every place on earth. The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church of Jesus Christ, still less a global pandemic.

How can something so very great and wonderful be contained in someone so very small? How can the wonder and glory of Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth, be distilled and focussed in a newborn baby? How can the reason and glory and sheer beauty of the universe become flesh in a tiny child?

John’s gospel invites us to explore this mystery: that life itself came into being in him. That the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

How can something so very great be concentrated in someone so very small?

Our first granddaughter Milly was born in March, just before lockdown. We met her on the day she was born, but then didn’t see her in person for several months.

She’s amazing. And seeing her and holding her in this first year of her life has underscored again for me the wonder and fragility of life and humanity. How so much is contained in so little. How much potential is encased in such vulnerability. How profound is the truth we celebrate today – that the Word of God takes flesh and comes to live among us, full of grace and truth.

The whole world has learned again this year how much power is contained in a tiny virus to spread illness and death and fear and to change our way of life.

God willing, the whole world will learn a different lesson in 2021: how much power is contained within a tiny phial of vaccine to bring protection and peace and recovery and healing.

I spent time last week in the shrine of St Frideswide, recording a version of this message for Church at Home. It was good to be here and to remember that St Frideswide founded a community at this crossroads to be a place of healing and love and learning, like every church across this diocese. Her community gave birth to an abbey and then a university. The abbey became a cathedral. The town grew up into a city. The crossroads by the river became one of the great cultural meeting places of the world. And now Frideswide’s vision of a place of healing has become one of the centres where those tiny phials of vaccine are developed, which will again bring healing to the world: faith and hope and love combine with God’s gifts of science and medicine and human wisdom to bring healing to the earth.

Truly great power to heal is able to dwell in something so very small.

And so we celebrate today. The very life of God comes to dwell among us in the Christ child: comes to dwell gently, softly but powerfully, shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Churches all across the diocese have been places of healing and love and practical support over this last year: communities and places where people have found strength and love and practical care and space to process all that is happening. So much has been given and received through our in-person worship and through our online worship as we have shared the life of Jesus.

And churches all across the diocese will continue to be places of healing and love and learning practical support through this year to come: communities of comfort and joy all year round, not just in the Christmas season.

The effects of the pandemic will continue in the months to come in many and different and difficult ways. We will need a vaccine for the virus, but we will need also strong medicine for loneliness and anxiety, for broken relationships, for grief, for inequality and division. The NHS and care home staff have been amazing. We owe them immense appreciation. But the mending of our world cannot be delegated. It is something to which every one of us is called.

We are privileged to gather in this cathedral today in person. Many would love to be here with us. Wherever Christians gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, we remind one another that all of this medicine is present in the gift of God’s Son: in him is life, and the life is the light of all people.

And because this medicine is in Christ, that same medicine is present in the life of God’s Church, whether we meet in person or online, whether we gather in homes or in a great cathedral. The members of Christ’s Church are like the phials of vaccine. We are sent out to do battle with injustice and conflict and darkness of every kind, to bring healing and learning and love and practical support.

Truly someone very great is able to live in someone so very small.

This day, Jesus Christ is born in a stable in Bethlehem, the life and love and light of God distilled into a child. This day, Christ comes afresh to dwell within our hearts, to be born in us this day. This day, we renew our calling to be channels of that light and life to all the world.

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

You can also watch Bishop Steven’s address for a Church at Home service for Christmas Day