Hope and Joy

A Homily preached to the Community of the Sisters of the Love of God, Fairacres, Oxford, on Christmas Morning 2012

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. John 1.9

The Radio – especially Radio 4 – tends to be my pretty solid companion throughout the year. One of the most popular forms of programme at this time of year is the review – reviews of news and current affairs, of our political life and current controversies.

You don’t have to listen for long to realise that all around us institutions are struggling in public perception, from the church, to the BBC: the role of the judiciary is under question, and police stand accused of political manipulation. The evidence of the impact of government policy on the poorest in our society becomes more and more apparent. There is a necessary revisiting of public morality rendered inevitable both by revelations of child abuse implicating national celebrities past and present in this country, and in America by the inexplicable massacre of innocents in Connecticut.

Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. Jeremiah 31.15

And into all this, another child is born in our hearts, born in time and place. And he is born precisely because there is sin, and brokenness, in the church, in the world, in creation. It may well be that this day, and perhaps Christmas Day for a few years to come, will be too soon for the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives in Newtown, Connecticut: for all visited by tragedy and grief: for all for whom existence seems merely a trap from which there is little prospect of escape.

But the truth remains.

…to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. John 1.12

This morning, we have an answer to those who cry ‘Why doesn’t God do something?’ Well, God just did. He

…emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, Phil.2.7

becoming human, that we might become divine. But, as the author of the Fourth Gospel shrewdly remarked, many do not receive him, which means that those of us who do must extend a yet greater welcome, and find yet more of what David Ford calls ‘heart-space’ for this child, for he is born to us this day, reminding us that

the highest heavens cannot contain him. 1 Kings 8.27

Social Networking sites have been full, in the last couple of days, of delightful pictures of Christingle Services and Carols Services, usually in packed and wonderfully decorated churches. From the smallest village church to the largest and most glorious cathedral, churches are packed partly through tradition and social habit but also because people long for fresh hope to illuminate their lives. The ‘feel-good factor’ presumably comes and goes with the season, and life is then back pretty much as it was before. But for a community such as this one, concerned with the devotion of our lives to this child and to his glorious Incarnation, merely feeling good is a small part of this morning – although, of course, I hope that we all do. We greet the child Jesus this morning with joy – a joy which is eternal, not dependant on passing mood, a joy which points to a constancy of hope that can never die, a joy which speaks directly into the turbulence of life which surrounds us, and by which the transformation of hearts, minds and lives is rendered possible. We are reminded of Robert Southwell’s evocative words, that

This little babe, so few days old, is come to rifle Satan’s fold.

Fear and anxiety are no longer ours. They are now the lot of Satan himself.

All hell does at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake

God confronts the powers of evil with a response that is at once frail, innocent and unanswerable. Power is confronted by powerlessness, might by frailty, coercion and manipulation by love, for in God’s economy these are the only things that can change the world, change people’s hearts. And we who come to adore him this morning marvel that God, in whom all power resides, can possibly accomplish this thing in this way.

May our hearts, and the hearts of those whom we serve, find space for this child, and may his gifts of lasting hope and eternal joy be ours, for then we will find what we need to stand with him in confronting the sin and sorrow of the waiting world.

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