Christmas Day Sermon 2012

Many of you will be aware that I recently have returned from a big sabbatical trip to churches in Canada and the United States.

I was there to learn and reflect and grow and I did that by making contact with the most interesting folk I could find in church life on the other side of the North Atlantic.

Inevitably I spent quite a lot of time poking around churches over there and coming from this cathedral, I was interested in what cathedrals over there were up to.

Which is how I found myself in the National Cathedral in Washington DC just a day or two after the American Election in November.

It is a mighty building. Far bigger than we are but when I saw it, it was not looking its best. Still recovering from an earthquake which wobbled all its stonework, they have netting strung all across the nave to catch falling fragments. So you stand in this enormous church unable to look up and appreciate the great spaces.

Unable to look up, instead I went down. For underneath the nave is a maze of twisty passages which lead into a great jumble of crypt chapels. If the upper parts of the Cathedral had been in order, I probably would never have made it down there. Had I not done so, I would have missed out on something extraordinary.

Down in one of the crypts I found a collection, the largest collection I have ever seen of Christmas cribs.

There was a pewter set of figures from Colorado,  an olivewood set from Bethlehem, and a set from Ghana with the three Magi gloriously bedecked with every colour under the African sun. And on and on it went. In cabinet after cabinet, the Christ child was being adored. There was a Guatamalan Mary and a Maori Joseph and Eastern European Shepherds and a lovely set where the angels were carved from dark mahogany. The nativity was happening all around me and in every culture on the planet.

As I looked around me I realised that wonderful truth revealed at Christmas time – that if Christ could be born in such a time as that then Christ can be born in such a time as this.

It was St Francis who first set up a nativity crib to inspire devotion. He knew that not everyone would make it to the Holy Land to worship there so he brought a Holy Land scene into people’s lives knowing that God would meet them exactly where they were.

And I believe it is true.

I believe it is true that if Christ is born this Christmas, he is born in Scotland today.

But what does that mean?

To start with it must mean a kinder world than the one we have come to know.

This year has been one in which old certainties have seemed to crumble. Respect for the church has been declining for years. And as often as not I find that easy to understand. The recent vote over women bishops in the Church of England reminded me that it isn’t just gay people who are treated as though they are less than fully whole and human by some of God’s people. But this year I find myself sharing in a sense of disappointment at so many of our secular institutions.

The Hillsborough inquiry seems to point to major failings of due process in policing. The media have been revealing scandal after scandal but also being hit by scandal after scandal too. And we live with a government seemingly intent on robbing the poorest whilst giving tax cuts to the rich, removing the benefits of the disabled and most vulnerable in society whilst seeming to be incapable of collecting the taxes from rich multinational corporations.

Such things are ungodly and beneath all our best hopes and expectations of ourselves.

But Christ has been born into the muddy stable of our modern world.

The angels tell us not to be afraid but to go there and worship and adore the babe.

As I gaze into Christmas crib I see a child who will change the world who radiates love and compassion.

As I gaze on that child I see a God who does not merely approve of the recognition of full human dignity for every human soul but a God who created it. For we are made in God’s image and called to live a faith which proclaims that not only the child in the manger is to be loved but every child of God on earth.

As I gaze into the crib, I see his gentle mother with who will teach us the songs of justice that she surely taught our Saviour.



I’ve never stopped believing that Mary lulled that child to sleep by singing him songs of justice.

“Listen my darling, God raises the lowly.”

“Listen my loved one, God scatters the mighty”.

She seemed to teach the child that the greater threat to human society is the feckless rich, not the vulnerable poor.

I look into the crib at Joseph and Mary and see in them a couple who managed to raise a son who believed that turning the tables on injustice was not only a possibility but an inevitability.

I see simple Shepherds kneel in adoration and the mighty Magi stooping in wonder and I imagine and dream of a world where all have enough.  Not just enough to eat but also enough spiritual food to be nourished and satisfied for ever.

I’ve already told some of you of another moment in my great American trip. The night of the election in America I found myself unexpectedly at night standing on the very spot where Martin Luther King preached his I have a dream speech.

At that moment when the votes were being counted as America decided whether to re-elect a black president, something that could scarcely have been imagined in Dr King’s day, I found standing on that spot looking out into the night intensely moving. It was a moment where tears came pouring down my cheeks. Unexpected tears. Tears of joy that so much has changed in so few years were mingled with tears of sadness at so much we have yet to put right.

And in my head, ringing in my head the words, “What’s your dream”.

This Christmas I have one simple devotion for you. The crib will be here in church for a couple of weeks.

Take some time sometime to gaze into it and ask yourself what your dream is as you look on the face of the Christ child. Bring your hopes and dreams for a better world into your mind here in church and gaze into the crib scene and know that all that is good is blessed and hallowed for all eternity.

Christ is born into this mixed up muddled up world.

And whilst God’s people gaze in wonder into the Christmas crib and see the face of God reflected in a vulnerable child, the dream of a better world will never die. Indeed, it will live and grow and reach out in all-embracing love for the world.

And as you pray this Christmas, know that all things, all manner of things shall be well. Amen.

Speak Your Mind