Given at St George's Cathedral, Southwark at the Mass for Nativity of the Lord, Christmas Eve 2021.
A blessed and holy Christmas to you and your loved ones
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
I wonder how many times this year you’ve been serenaded by Wizzard’s yuletide anthem ‘I wish it could be Christmas everyday’? Whether you love it, or hate it, for the past 48 years – yes, 48 years - it’s been the backing track for Christmas shopping and festive parties. But what might it mean if it really were Christmas every day?
We know, only too well, that Christmas is a challenging time for many people, not least given the fallout of the Covid pandemic. Those who are lonely, bereaved, homeless, or trapped by poverty, can really struggle in the bleak mid-winter. Perhaps, through others’ kindness, the days around Christmas are made more bearable. But, a bit like Christmas decorations, it can soon disappear. All too quickly, things get back to an unacceptable normality.
When Jesus Christ, the Son of God, arrived in our world as a tiny baby, nothing would ever be the same again. Something so momentous happened that remarkable night in Bethlehem that some still date the history of world events as happening either before, or after, the birth of the Lord Jesus.
The familiar story recorded by St Luke is timeless. It has no sell by date. It is never passed its best. This is no one-hit wonder. When God became human a new relationship was established with the world and every person. Hope, forgiveness, and eternal life are offered freely to us through the new-born Christ child.
What the Prophet Isaiah anticipated centuries beforehand really did happen, really did take flesh. From the darkened stable, into our darkened world, a great light shone as the Prince of Peace, the Mighty God, wriggled and gurgled in the hay. This light still shines today, right now, into every heart opened to believe.
We sing of the Lord Jesus’ birth year in, year out. Our carols predate the pop songs. The glory and majesty of God entering the world is never tiresome. Christ, once born in time, is continually born in us, every day, every moment, through the same Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary. We too are to shine with the glory of the Lord.
There’s a sense in which it’s right that every disciple should want it to be Christmas every day. But what does this mean? Without restricting anyone’s love of turkey, or fondness for pulling crackers, this is about deeper truths, those lasting longer than a tin of chocolates or dish of nuts. Here are four Christmas gifts for everyday which flow from our celebration of Christ’s birth.
First of all, we can marvel at the faithfulness of God’s plan for our world. Foretold by ancient prophecies, a child is born for us, a son given to us. Because God loves the world so much he refuses to abandon us to ourselves, to sin, or to death. God comes in person to share with us the life of his kingdom. We are each part of God’s plan. There is a purpose, a calling, some definite service, to which we are each invited. As we recall Christ’s birth, and the Father’s plan for him, we can give thanks for our own birth and seek daily faithfulness to what God’s asks of us.
Second, we can take from Christmas the everyday truth that God often reveals himself in the simplicity of his presence. There was nothing grand about the birth of Christ in a stinking barn. In the most mundane circumstances, God is present, day in, day out. He is Emmanuel, God with us, in all our ups and downs, our successes and our failures. How beautiful it can be, in the middle of an ordinary day, just to pause and pray ‘Thank you Lord, for the beauty, the consolation, the reassurance, of your presence.’
When the shepherds were invited to witness Christ’s birth, their initial reaction was terror. The glory of the Lord was overwhelming. But Christmas Good News began with an antidote to fear. ‘Do not be afraid,’ said the angel of the Lord; ‘Do not be afraid.’ This is a third Christmas gift for every day. Whatever we face, we are never alone. Even in times of darkness and shadow, the Lord is with us, we need not fear.
Finally, three Christmas words speak through all times and seasons: love, peace, and joy. To love others as we are loved by God in Christ. To be peacemakers in the large and little things of day to day. To make joy the hallmark of our existence.
These truths, these gifts, and more besides, are not just for Christmas. They’re for life, for every day. None of us could probably cope if we repeated Christmas Day over and over again. We can do more than wish the truths of Christmas to be present every day. We can ask Christ to renew them in our hearts, so that daily, through him, they take flesh in our lives.
This homily, prepared for Midnight Mass 2021 by Archbishop John, was also published in The Preacher.