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Christmas Sermon - Let Light Shine Out of Darkness

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu on the steps of York Minster, Christmas Day 2012.

Tuesday 25th December 2012

The Archbishop of York's Christmas Sermon delivered at York Minster this morning follows...

Readings:          Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Luke 2:1-14

 

PRAYER:  O God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness”, shine in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of your glory in the face of Jesus Christ, our Lord,  Amen

 

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.. for a child has been born for us, a son given to us…” (Isaiah 9:2,6).

 

Please come with me on a journey into the future.  The year is 2037.  No child has been born for 25 years, and the human race faces extinction. Western science and medicine have failed to find the cause for the sterility of the human race.

 

Now, in the early hours of this Christmas morning the last human being to be born on earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenos Aires.  If the first reports are to be believed, Joseph Ricardo, has died as violently as he lived.

 

Here in England the despotic rule of Xan Lyppiat, the Warden of England, goes on unabated.  The old are despairing and the young are cruel. 

 

His cousin, Theo Faren, lives a passive, solitary life, without hope.  He decides to attend the Inauguration Service of the new Dean of York.  The anthem, “Let all the world in every corner sing: My God and King!”, is played on tape, because there are no boys and girls left to sing it.  Only on tape and DVDs do we now hear the voices of children. Only on film or on television programmes do we see the bright, moving images of the young.  Some find them unbearable to watch, but most feed on them as they might on chocolate.

 

Then a chance encounter with a young woman leads Faren into contact with a group of dissenters.  Miraculously the young woman is pregnant, and so suddenly Theo faces agonising moral choices about who should control the future of humankind.”

This chilling futuristic account – with some minor poetic liberties - is told by that great writer of classic crime – P D James – in her novel, The Children of Men. 

 

But the novel ends with hope: brutality is turned into compassion, betrayal into loyalty, enmity into friendship, despair into hope, self-absorption into inter-dependence, death into life.  How? 

 

Not by Western science discovering the solution, nor by the plans and schemes of those in power.  But it’s the vulnerable who rise up, and neutralise the jealously, treachery, violence, murder, evil and the intoxication of power.

 

Amidst the dissenters’ struggle to end the despotic rule in England, a child is born in a wood-shed.  Its father, Luke, has been killed and the mother asks Theo Faren to christen the baby for her.  From some far off childhood memory he recalls the baptismal rite.  Water has to flow, there are words to be said.  And with a thumb wet with his own tears and stained with the mother’s blood he makes on the child’s forehead the sign of the cross – naming him Luke-Theo.

 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: the light has shined on those who lived in a land of deep darkness. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us” (Isaiah 9:2,6).

 

Our commemoration today is of the birth of a Child of Bethlehem, not the promulgation of a system or the inauguration of a faith or another religion. Religions there were before Christ was born. Systems of truth there were, out of which governments and civilisations sprang.

 

But up to the time that Jesus Christ was born, up to the time that God took upon himself our human nature and was born of Mary, and entered into, and anointed, flesh and blood – “He was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” – the world had lacked a human being perfect in holiness, distinguished in wisdom which inherent righteousness can bring to humanity. A child pre-eminent in love, compassion and forgiveness revealing the fatherhood of God. Humanity did not need a new religion; it needed a Divine presence in human flesh. 

 

As in the desperate world depicted by PD James, what the world needed was the birth of a child who would redeem the human race and rescue it from extinction.

 

God, in Jesus Christ came to save – not to judge. He lived in our unloving world, exiled from its Creator, for as long as we allowed him to. In the end, it wasn’t that Jesus rejected us because of all our failings, faults and a refusal to change, but that we rejected him.  He suffered and completed God’s work of making us his friends.

 

If we are tempted to pull out of our Church families because there is too much hurt and lack of love – we should remember Jesus of Nazareth.  He never pulled out of our human race. And God the Father is no mere spectator, approving the sacrifice and applauding the actor – Jesus of Nazareth. God’s love was the root, Christ’s death the fruit of stickability and self-sacrifice.

 

We are celebrating the birth of the Child of Bethlehem, with universal godly credentials.  His little family did not absorb him. He was not the Son of Mary and Joseph, he was the Son of humanity and of heaven: “the Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Jesus royalised our humanity by crowning his human nature with the Divine nature.

 

His universal godly credentials are further illustrated by the fact that he became poor for us – desperately poor. “He was kind enough to give up all his riches and become poor, so that we could become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

 

Rich in faith, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) – fruits of the Holy Spirit and virtues which money cannot buy.

 

At the birth of Jesus Christ the world began to live a new life. Religious beliefs were translated out of words into humanity, life and spirit, out of the intellect into the simple impulses of the soul: “A child has been born for us, a Son given to us.”

 

And this Son’s character is “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6b). Yes! His rule is characterised by everlasting justice and righteousness, instead of the ruthless greed and exploitation which prevailed when he was born and is prevailing now in our global village.

In Jesus Christ, God manifested his saving power for he shared the timeless, limitless, loving power of God. And when he left our world physically, he promised that another counsellor would come and be with his people for ever (John 14:16).

 

As followers of the Prince of Peace we are to be peace-makers rather than peace-lovers, and this is a challenging calling, but it is what we must be if we are to be true followers of Jesus Christ.

 

In God’s eyes the quality of our relationships is more important than the rightness of our convictions. Sadly, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are often bad at learning how to disagree; but we do need to remain in harmony. We must “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” – as St Paul says in Ephesians 4:3.

 

If we cannot experience and demonstrate the reality of this in Christ, what have we to offer to the rest of society, with its fractured relationships?

 

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.. for a child has been born for us, a son given to us…” (Isaiah 9:2,6).

 

The details of the new-born child in the manger and the visit of the shepherds emphasize the simple human aspects of Jesus, while the angelic song shows us the divine purpose to be achieved through him.

 

God works through human agents to achieve his purposes. So let us feed those who hunger with the Bread come down from heaven. Let us give shelter to the homeless with him who could find no room in the inn. Let us welcome him into the inn of our lives, so we might be fully alive, fully human again.  Amen.

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