Welcome to another new year. I hope it’s a good one for you and for your family and for our all our communities across Oxfordshire and beyond.

This is the time of year when we package our hopes into new year resolutions. If I may, I want to suggest a couple to you to think about in the next few days and to build into your own life.

Lots of people will be wondering about taking more exercise or joining a gym. Personal trainers talk about doing exercise to strengthen your core: the centre of the body which can help and support everything we do. That’s great but we are not just physical bodies: we have a different inner core – a spiritual heart – which needs to be mended and strengthened.

So here are two resolutions to strengthen your inner core.

The first is a resolution to go deeper in prayer and worship. The last few years for many people have been challenging and difficult. We need to draw more deeply on God’s strength. The best way to do that is to take time at the beginning of each week, Sunday by Sunday to worship God and draw on God’s strength and grace. Reconnect with your local church. Get back into the habit of worship. You’ll find a warm welcome, friendship and a time for rest and renewal.  Try to take some time each day to pray. Pray the Lord’s Prayer. Pray for your loved ones. Pray for the world. Build up that inner core. It may feel a bit daunting to cross the threshold – but for many people it’s more than worth it for the strength and hope and joy you’ll find in Jesus and in Christian faith.

The second is to reset your priorities once again at the beginning of the year. Remember what’s important. One of the stories I will be reflecting on this year is when someone came to Jesus and asked him which is the most important commandment. Jesus replied like this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Remember in this year that you are deeply loved by God and God calls you to this way of love.

Lent begins this year on Valentine’s Day, 14 January. All across the Diocese of Oxford we will be reflecting on this way of love, the two greatest commandments. I’m praying that many people from the wider community will join us this year as we explore this way of love. You can find details on our website, Come and See.

My God bless you and our city and our county in this brand new year and take us deeper in that way of love.


Almighty God

We thank you that you have made the world in love

And that you call us into love for you and for our neighbour

We dedicate this new year to you whatever it may bring

Strengthen us in our inner being to know your love more fully

To know you better and to live this way of love

Through Jesus Christ our Lord


A very happy Christmas to you and to your families and to all who will listen to this sermon.
The joy of this day is vital medicine for the ills of the world.

I wonder if you can source these words:

The juice of a carrot the smile of parrot
A little drop of claret anything that rocks

They come from a song with the title Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 3 by Ian Drury and the Blockheads, released in 1979. Ian Drury was one of the best poets of punk. The song basically is a long list of reasons to get out of bed in the morning. Not all the lines can be repeated in church but here’s another that can:

A bit of grin and bear it, a bit of come and share it,
You’re welcome we can spare it, yellow socks.

If you don’t know Reasons to be Cheerful you may want to think instead of My Favourite Things from the Sound of Music: Rainbows on roses and whiskers on kittens; bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens. More schmaltzy but the same message.

Christmas offers all of us after a hard and difficult year a long list of reasons not to be cheerful but even better to be joyful. Most of us will not need reminding this morning of the darkness in the world. We witness the indescribable suffering in Yemen and Ukraine, in Gaza and Israel and other forgotten conflicts. We see the growing inequalities in our own country and across the world. We hear the groaning of creation, as the earth continues year by year to grow warmer with disastrous consequences for nature, for our present and our future. The lives of colleagues and family, friends and neighbours are blighted by illness to a much greater degree than a few years ago.

But amid all of this, this Christmas story we are telling is an invitation to joy. These are the angels words spoken into the darkness:

Do not be afraid; for see, 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.

The multitude of the heavenly host sing the words which were sung to us a few moments ago and which we will sing again again in Hark the Herald:

Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace among those whom he favours

According to Luke’s gospel, when Jesus is born, everyone bursts into song: first Zecheriah, then Mary then the angels, then Simeon. There is a note of irrepressible joy which runs through the nativity story. The light and joy break in in spite of the pain and the darkness. There is a harsh Roman occupation. Faith burns low in Israel. Joseph and Mary face a long hard journey. The child is born in a stable and laid in a manger. There is poverty and distress in Bethlehem as in our world today. But the message of joy cuts deeper even than the pain and distress of occupation and conflict and poverty.

Ian Drury sings of reasons to be cheerful. But joy is very different from cheerfulness. To be cheerful is to grin and bear it, to smile though your heart is aching, to whistle into the wind. That sometimes helps on difficult days if we can do it. But cheerfulness lives on the surface of our lives not in the realities of our grieving. Cheerfulness and pain find it hard to live together in the same heart for very long. One drives out or suppresses the other.

But joy is different. Joy has a way of acknowledging all of the pain and sorrow we carry and yet going deeper, connecting us to the source of our life. Joy can take up residence alongside all manner of loss and difficulty and suffering because joy represents a deeper truth and a deeper reality and a deeper story at work.

Joy flows from the wonder of God’s gift in Jesus Christ, from the truth that God comes to be with us; from the reality that God is present in our world in every place of darkness and suffering; from the understanding that Jesus Christ has come to save the world from every fear and darkness and sorrow, to win our salvation and to build Christ’s kingdom of justice and peace for ever.

Our joy today is like coals on a fire which has burned very low. As we listen again to the story of Jesus birth and as we ponder and reflect in these 12 days of Christmas, it is these flames of joy which need to burst into life again within us and set us alight for God once more.

So ponder the story and find the joy in your faith once again. Joy in the good news that sins are forgiven. Joy in the presence of the Saviour. Joy in the humility of God. Joy in the faithfulness and obedience and vision of Mary. Joy in the shepherds racing to the stable. Joy in the slow journey of the magi. Joy in music of this season and in the worship of the church. Joy in the invitation to gather around his table. Joy in being called back into life and service. Joy in offering our very selves.

In this joy find the renewal for which your heart is so very thirsty. Drink and be refreshed and be strengthened then for service. We have a king to serve. We have a faith to share. We have a church which needs to be renewed. We have a world to change. We have a kingdom to build in the power and strength and joy which Jesus gives.

Let me finish with some lines in the style of Ian Drury. Reasons to be Joyful Parts 1, 2 and 3:

Angels in glory, a wonderful story
Choirs adulatory, life changing news

From darkness comes light, a gift in the night
The Saviour is born, the King of the Jews

A journey in danger, a child in a manger
The infant world changer God’s gift to the earth

Shepherds run to his stable as swift as they’re able
Come now to his table and feast at his birth

Mary ponders the myst’ry, this pivot of history
Through pain will come victory the Saviour of all

Sing joy at this birth, bring gifts for his worth
Rejoice in his coming and wait for his call.

Christmas can be a busy and demanding time. Find a moment each day to be quiet and still. Sit comfortably and still your mind and heart. If you can, have a picture of the nativity or a crib scene in your hand. Pray the Lord’s Prayer slowly and carefully reflecting on each line:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed by your name

Jesus, the Son of God, invites us to call God our Father. Jesus is our brother. Almighty God, maker of heaven and earth has become a child to live among us.

Draw near to me Lord in your love this day.

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven

The child in the manger is God’s chosen and anointed king, the Christ.
His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom of justice and peace. His reign has begun but is not yet fulfilled. Christ will return to make all things new.

Bring peace and justice to this world, Lord we pray

Give us this day our daily bread

Jesus is the bread of life. In him all of our hungers are satisfied.
In this season we take time to thank God for the good gifts we have been given each day. We set our hearts against greed.

We pray Lord for all those who lack food, shelter and warmth this Christmas and those who help them, here and across the world.

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us

Mary’s son will grow to live a life without sin. Jesus will offer his life on the cross so that we might be forgiven and reconciled to God and to others. God will raise him from death.

Help us, Lord, to seek and to offer forgiveness in every part of our lives

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil

From his birth to his passion and death, Jesus knew sorrow, hardship and trials of every kind and is able to strengthen us in whatever we are facing.

Lord send your grace and help this day to all those passing through testing, temptation or hardship.

For yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory
For ever and ever. Amen.

Here in the Christ child is a glory and a power greater than any ever seen on earth: the power of love and humility and holiness combine.

May we live this day, Lord, to your glory. Amen.

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.



+Steven Oxford
Christ Church Cathedral
Christmas Day, 2022

We bear witness to the truth that Christmas has not been cancelled – to the profound truth that God became a human person for our sake.

This is a message for all the children in the Diocese of Oxford – Bishop Steven needs your help to make people smile this Christmas.

“Look a virgin shall conceive and bear and son, and they shall name him Emmanuel”

I am struck at the end of this year by how many Christmas carols are lullabies and I have been wondering why.

There are plenty of carols which are the opposite, of course: Hark the Herald Angels Sing is a call to wake up. O Come All Ye Faithful summons us to worship. Some of the best-loved carols tell the Christmas story: O Little Town; Once in Royal David’s City; While Shepherds watched.

But many are simple lullabies. They are full of gentleness and tenderness and welcome and love. Away in a Manger. Silent Night. The Coventry Carol. The Rocking Carol. There is even a Radio 3 website which ranks carols by how likely they are to send you to sleep.

After a difficult year, those simple carols move us in ways we don’t fully understand. A tear comes to the eye. Sobs rise in the throat. We take the hand of those we love. Friends embrace. What is going on?

The carols are reminding us of the very centre of the Christmas story; the very centre of the human story. At the end of a difficult year, the world does not need to be told to pull itself together. The world does not need to be shouted at or scolded or condemned. The world doesn’t need yet more words seeking to explain the mysteries of life.

The world simply needs to catch a glimpse that, after all, God really is love and mercy and goodness, despite everything. The world needs simply to be held and loved and mended. The world needs rest and peace.

Our world needs to hear again that God speaks in gentle whispers and not through earthquake, wind or fire.

That wisdom comes from teenage girls and foreign lands and ordinary working people.

By common agreement, 2019 has been a difficult year. There is a deep fear abroad in the world. The very climate of the earth is changing in ways which are damaging and unpredictable. Still, the leaders of some of the most powerful nations on earth are in denial and others too slow to act.

We hoped technology might bring us together. We are more connected than ever before, but we are also more lonely and isolated and divided. So-called social media eats away the borders of our person and encroaches on every secret place. We see the worst side of human life and inequality reflected in the mirror of our online lives.

The political rancour and stalemate we have endured has affected workplaces and families and morale and spills over into every day fractures and divisions. The ordinary trials of life, illness and insecurity are amplified the more we understand the lostness of the whole world. Where are we to turn for help when all everything is coming apart?

“Look, says the prophet, a virgin shall conceive and bear and son, and they shall name him Emmanuel”

Over all this sad and weary earth, God sends and sings this lullaby. Christmas in our culture now is a time for deep remembering. We have almost forgotten the story but not quite and not at Christmas. Here is the great and mighty wonder. God is love. God is born into our broken and frightened world. God comes to us as a child, the Son of Mary. God enters creation in humility and truth. God comes to redeem us. God comes to be with us.

God comes to save us from our very selves and the from the mess we make. That is why God’s Son takes the name Jesus, Saviour. God comes to mend us and remake us: Jesus is the Prince of Peace. God comes to end loneliness: we are not alone in the vastness of creation. God is with us, Emmanuel. God comes to bring hope for all our futures and the promise of a just world and a kingdom which will live forever, a new heaven and a new earth. This is the story we are called to live and called to tell.

Jesus is God’s own lullaby, the Word made flesh, the word of life, the word of love. Whatever your year has been like, hear this lullaby this Christmas. Take hold of this word of love as a person who is sinking in quicksand seizes a rope.

Hold it fast.

Allow yourself to be anchored and pulled to safe ground. Rebuild from this strong centre.

You are loved. God is with us. Jesus is born.

He is here.


+Steven Oxford
Christ Church Cathedral
Christmas Day, 2019

There is a refrain which runs through Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus: “Do not be afraid!” How we need to hear it. Read more

Let’s raise a glass this week to the people who…

…are making holes in oranges and assembling Christingles; to the wardens who open and close the church; to the volunteer cleaners who scrub candlewax out of the carpet and polish the brass; to the flower arrangers and ringers; to the choir soloists and their proud parents; to the organists playing Hark the Herald for the fifteenth time; to the thurifer caught up in the mystery of her first midnight mass; for the second violin in the church orchestra who only plays at Christmas; to all the volunteers who pushed cards through letterboxes in the first week of December;

…to the treasurers staying late in the vestry counting and bagging; to the PCC secretary who learned how to update the website; to the army of volunteer cooks turning out thousands of mince pies; to those who will read the Christmas story; to the new curate preparing his first Christmas sermon and the retired priest preparing her thirtieth and still finding new things in the story; to the sacristans ironing the linen and setting up the altar; to the young mums finding time to help in the toddler group nativity; to the lay minister taking home communion to the housebound and nursing homes; to the greeters at the church doors and the person on the sound desk who doesn’t forget to charge the batteries; to the clergy summoning their last bit of energy; to the lift givers and intercessors; to the ones who know where we stored the shepherds last year; to the pastors who listen and know just what to say.

Something extraordinary happens across the diocese in December. More than 260,000 people attend church, school and civic carol services in Advent. That’s around five times our normal worshipping community. Over 160,000 people attend services on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Every single one will find a smile and a welcome and hear something of the Christmas story as they come.

That takes an army of volunteers. Thank you. It’s worth it.

It’s worth it not because so many of our churches will be full (though that is lovely). It’s worth it because those who come will find in the beautiful, profound Christmas story new hope and strength for their lives. In the midst of the carols and Christingles, marriages will be renewed; families will find grace to forgive; generosity will be rekindled; strength will be sought and given; tears will be shed; silence will be rediscovered; the embers of faith will be rekindled somehow; seeds will be sown and begin to take root.

For some, this will be life saving. For some, it will be life shaping. For others another gentle step on a road back to God. For others a profound moment of rediscovery and hope and salvation.

Many will come confused and distressed at all that is happening in the world. The story returns us to the centre, to the meaning. We will be reminded together that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will never overcome it. We will carry that light together into homes and workplaces and centres of influence: a Christ-like church for the sake of God’s world.

And at the centre of it all the one whose name means saviour and king: Jesus the Christ, coming as a child, changing everything.

Whatever part you play as part of this wonderful team, thank you. May God bless you and your families this Christmas.




Regular readers of this blog will know that each year Bishop Steven writes a new hymn. The verses of this year’s hymn are based on Colossians 1.15-20: praising Christ first for creation and then for salvation. The chorus sets this praise of Christ in a simple song of praise to the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I’ve invited the Diocese of Oxford to dwell in the Word this year in two passages from Colossians (1.15-20 and 3.12-17). We are exploring what it means to be a more Christ-like Church, contemplative, compassionate and courageous for the sake of God’s world. I’m really appreciating reading these texts with a variety of groups as the weeks go by.

One of the verses in the second part of the passage says this: “Sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God”.  The early Church catches the joy of the resurrection and creates new songs of praise. Some of these songs find their way into the New Testament.

Our first Colossians passage, 1.15-20 is one of those hymns or spiritual songs. It’s a profound and wonderful hymn to Christ.

I’ve tried to turn it into something that groups and congregations can sing together. Regular readers of this blog will know that each year I try and write a new hymn as the verse for our Christmas card.

The verses of the hymn are based on Colossians 1.15-20: praising Christ first for creation and then for salvation. The chorus sets this praise of Christ in a simple song of praise to the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The tune I have in mind is the Skye Boat Song. The chorus is meant to be sung to “Speed bonny boat like a bird on the wing”. The verses are sung to the slightly different tune of “Many’s the lad…”

I think it works best if you sing it fairly slowly. You are welcome to reproduce the words and have a go.

I have an idea it might work well as a piece sung in harmony by choirs as an anthem at Communion or at a quiet moment in the service. Let me know how you get on.


Praise to the Father, praise to the Son, Jesus our Lord and King
Praise to the Spirit, Holy and strong, lift up your hearts and sing.

Heaven and earth, land, sea and sky
Planets and stars and light
All things were made through Jesus Christ
Icon of love infinite

Praise to the Father…

All things exist in Christ the Lord
Christ was before all things
All things are held in Christ the Word
From Christ all new life springs

Praise to the Father…

Christ is the source, Christ is the head
The church is his body on earth
Christ above all raised from the dead
Calling us into new birth

Praise to the Father…

In him God’s life loves to abide
Calling the earth into one
Christ through the cross offered his life
Peace for creation is won

Praise to the Father, praise to the Son, Jesus our Lord and King
Praise to the Spirit, Holy and strong, lift up your hearts and sing.

Steven Croft, 2018
After Colossians 1.15-20
Suggested tune: The Skye Boat Song; repeat the chorus after each verse.

A set of three Bible studies for Lent is in preparation based on Bishop Steven’s addresses to the clergy conference earlier this year. We expect these to be available to order from in January.


Welcome to the second edition of My (extraordinary) Family. In this episode Bishop Steven speaks with the Revd Felicity Scroggie, the Rector of St Mary’s, Kidlington and our new Bishop’s Advisor in Women’s Ministry. Hear about her journey to ordination, and the adventures of a live nativity, complete with a real camel and various other farm animals.